Authors: Kelly Favor
“Was it clear from the outset that he expected something in exchange for your position at his firm?”
“Fairly quickly,” Candace said, nodding. “We spent a weekend at a conference and at that time, he made it obvious that he wanted more than a traditional boss and employee relationship.”
“How did he make it obvious?”
“Well, we had dinner after the first day at the conference and then he invited me back to his hotel room. When I expressed uncertainty, Todd said that a young lawyer couldn’t afford to turn down a chance to be close to a man like him. And I asked if he was giving me an ultimatum. He said, absolutely.”
The camera switched from Candace’s face to a shot of Anderson Cooper, his eyes wrinkled with embarrassment and confusion on her behalf. “So you spent the night with him?”
“I did,” she said. “And I have proof.”
The clip ended and returned to Wolf Blitzer, who took a deep breath and then explained that the entire interview would be shown later that evening on CNN exclusively.
Liam turned the television off and swore under his breath as he got off the couch.
Grace had a lump in her throat as she watched Liam suffering, and she thought—
here we go again. It’s all about to go bad
She felt weak and nauseous.
Here comes the anger, the withdrawal, the distance between us widening until the gulf is too big to cross.
Liam paced in a small circle, then pulled out his phone and texted briefly. A moment later, he was on the phone with his father and seemed to be making plans to go and see him.
Liam’s voice was deep yet faint, as if it came from so far down inside him that he could hardly be heard any longer.
Murmuring his goodbye, he hung up and then stood there, hardly moving.
Grace just watched him.
And then he turned and seemed to come to, as if waking from a nightmare. His eyes grew bright and focused as he looked at Grace. “What’s wrong?” he said.
“What’s wrong?” she repeated. “Your father just got accused of sexual harassment on CNN, Liam.”
“I know that,” Liam said, walking closer and then sitting down next to her on the couch and putting his hand on her ankle. “But you seem upset—like more upset than my father sounds, even.” He smiled a little.
She considered what was appropriate to say at a time like this.
Don’t make it about you, Grace. Liam needs you
But then again
doesn’t it always end up like this? With Liam needing my support, and my needs coming second to all of the drama and madness that comes with being in a relationship with a Houston man?
“I don’t know,” she lied.
“Grace,” Liam pressed, still sounding patient as his hand gently rubbed her leg.
“What?” she replied, an edge coming into her voice.
She realized she was afraid. Worse than afraid. She was terrified that the beginning of losing him had already started.
“Tell me what’s wrong,” he insisted, but his eyes were soft. Kind.
A warm feeling flooded her belly and bloomed into her chest.
“I’m scared that you’re going to leave me again because of this.” And the tears overflowed, spilling onto her cheeks.
“Never,” he said, shaking his head. “I told you things are different now. You want me to call my father back and cancel seeing him tonight?” he asked.
“No, of course not. You need—“
“It’s not about what I need,” he replied instantly. “I don’t give a shit about talking to my father if it’s going to hurt you. I should’ve asked you first, before I called him, but I just freaked out.”
Grace couldn’t believe what she was hearing. Was this the same man that had broken up with her via voicemail not long ago?
She was having trouble accepting what her eyes and ears were seeing and hearing. This was Liam Houston as she’d always wished he might be, but never truly imagined he would become.
And yet here he was.
“Of course I want you to see your father right now,” she said. “I feel better just knowing that I still matter.”
“Matter?” Liam said, his eyes widening in surprise. “You’re all that matters to me, Grace. Whatever you need to feel safe—that’s what I’m going to do. Just say the word.”
“I believe you,” she replied, softly.
“I mean it,” he continued. “Tell me what you want and it will happen. I don’t owe my father or anyone else in my family a damn thing. You’re my family now, and I intend to take care of you and be loyal to you first and foremost.”
A deep, shuddering sigh came out of her mouth, unbidden.
Grace felt—not just a weight off her shoulders—a release so intense that it was almost orgasmic. But it wasn’t sexual.
It was as if something deep in her soul, some wound that had festered for God only knew how many years, had just been healed.
A thorn removed.
The sense of peace moving through her was palpable and tangible.
“I love you,” she told him, then.
He stared deeply into her eyes, his eyes unwavering. Strong and clear and decisive.
“You will never be alone again, Grace,” he told her. “And you are loved more than you can imagine.”
He leaned in and kissed her again, his lips the same fire as that first time they’d touched, only now the fire was a steady burn, blazingly fierce and white hot.
was shaking a little as he poured himself a stiff drink.
They were standing in his hotel room and he was looking older than he had the last time she’d seen him.
It was as if the man had aged a decade in just a few days.
“Anyone want to drink with me?” he asked, as he picked up the glass and held it with practiced ease.
“I’m not drinking,” Liam announced without a hint of apology.
Todd raised an eyebrow. “Never thought I’d hear that line coming from your mouth. Will wonders never cease?” He turned to Grace. “What about you, little lady? Are you a teetotaler as well?”
She shrugged. “I’m okay,” she said. “I’d probably better keep all my faculties intact right now.”
Liam’s father shrugged and then quickly threw back the contents of his glass, closing his eyes. “Keeping my faculties intact is the last thing I want to do right now,” he said, wiping the back of his hand across his mouth.
His eyes fluttered open, and they looked pained and haunted.
It reminded Grace of how Liam had looked after his mother’s death.
But Liam didn’t wear that expression anymore.
She felt a surge of pride and love and devotion as she watched Liam standing there, looking so composed and adult and manly, even as he dealt with a horrible and stressful situation.
“Dad, you need to tell me the truth. Tell
the truth,” Liam corrected himself, giving Grace a meaningful glance.
Todd poured himself another glass of scotch. He filled this one even higher, but now he only sipped at the amber liquid. “The truth,” he sighed. “Everyone apparently has their own version of it. Candace McArthur clearly has hers.”
“That doesn’t help me much,” Liam said. “What happened between you two? Did you actually tell her she had to sleep with you to advance her career?”
His father laughed grimly. “That’s not how I remember it, son.” He walked over to the window and stared out.
“How do you remember it?”
“Is this a trial now? A deposition?” his father asked, still looking outside.
“However you need to think of it to give me a straight answer.”
“Huh,” Todd replied, sipping. He chuckled. “So this is what it’s all come to. I’m being interrogated about my sex life by my teetotaler son while CNN gets ready to trash my reputation and I figure out what a disbarred lawyer can do to earn some extra scratch.”
“You’re being overly dramatic, Dad. Just tell me what went on.”
Todd couldn’t seem to look at them anymore. He was just staring out the window and sipping at his drink. “We did sleep together. And I can’t pretend that was okay. It wasn’t okay, and I shouldn’t have slept with a junior lawyer. But I seem to recall that she threw herself at me.” He sighed, and now he did turn and glance at them, but his gaze seemed to settle on Grace. “You probably think I’m full of shit, don’t you?”
She considered her words carefully.
What did she believe?
Grace thought about her first impression of Todd. He’d always struck her as a bit slimy, and yet—she recalled the warmth and generosity he’d shown towards her and Liam at Anne Houston’s funeral. The way he’d hugged them both and forced Liam’s sister and brother to at least pretend to treat them with respect.
“You knew that Candace was going to come forward with this story,” Grace said. “You warned Liam about it when we had breakfast that morning together.”
“That’s right,” Todd said. “I knew this was coming, but I’d been trying to settle with Candace. Trying to come to some resolution so as not to go public. But she wouldn’t budge.”
“What do you think she wants?” Liam asked.
“I really have no idea,” Todd said. He examined his glass of scotch as if it might hold an answer. “It seemed like she wanted me to admit my guilt publicly.” He snorted. “I would’ve thought that some money might make the problem go away.”
“Unless she really believes her own story,” Grace said.
“Or unless she’s telling the truth,” Liam offered.
Todd’s body appeared to stiffen as he stood by the hotel room window. But he didn’t yell or scream or throw his glass across the room. He simply stood there, as if he was already getting used to the assaults on his character that he would be receiving from this point on.
“All I can tell you is that we slept together,” Liam’s father finally stated. “It was a one-night-stand. It happened one time, and that was it. I never told her confidential information about my clients.”
“Can she prove anything?”
Todd shrugged and took another long drink. “She worked at my firm. She had access to records. Who’s to say she didn’t steal some of that sensitive information?”
“It sounds like you think someone set you up,” Liam told him.
His father didn’t answer at first. Finally, he downed the rest of his drink and then stifled a belch. “I’ve made enemies over the years, Liam. I’m a trial attorney. So many people would like to see me bleed out, I can hardly keep the names straight anymore.”
“Was anything else going on at the time when you slept with this woman?” Liam asked. “Anything else in your life that stands out? A case that seemed fishy? Something in your personal life?”
Todd put the glass down on the bar and finally made eye contact with his son. “Maybe I let my guard down,” he said, sighing. He licked his lips and seemed to get suddenly uncomfortable, shifting his weight and scratching his temple.
“Let your guard down how?” Liam asked, suspicious now.
“One particular situation does stand out in my mind,” Todd said. “Something that I haven’t wanted to admit to you, Liam.”
Liam folded his arms and his expression darkened. “Here we go,” he said. “Come out with it, Dad.”
“Your mother approached me a while back,” he said. “She was concerned about your lack of preparedness for the role she’d always envisioned you to play in the family business.”
Liam raised an eyebrow. “That’s not exactly news.”
“No,” Todd admitted, as he went back to the bottle of scotch.
“Stop drinking,” Liam said, his voice harsh now. “Just tell me what you did, Dad.”
Todd put the bottle down and faced Liam with a dejected look on his face. “Your mother and I were in discussions about me running the Houston real estate business if she was no longer able to continue doing so for any reason.”
Liam’s face went pale. “What?” he said. “She asked
to run the business?”
“We were supposed to have a meeting the same day she died in the accident.” His father’s jaw worked as his nostrils flared. He seemed on the verge of tears. “I told her I didn’t feel right about usurping my own son, but she was extremely concerned that you weren’t going to be ready to handle the pressure. She didn’t trust anyone else but me, as funny as that might sound. After everything—despite all the bad blood between us—apparently I was the last person she could turn to.”
Grace couldn’t believe her ears. “So she was on her way to her lawyers’ offices to meet with you the day she died?” Grace said to Liam’s father. “The day she had the accident?”
Todd nodded miserably. “Yes.”
The enormity of the revelation stunned Grace into silence.
Liam’s face was stony. “How far in advance had that meeting between the two of you been planned?” he asked his father.
“We’d had it on the books for a couple of weeks,” Todd answered. His voice was quiet. “I know I should’ve told you everything before now.”
Liam shook his head. “Do you have any idea what I went through? I blamed myself for her accident.”
But then again
, Grace thought,
you only blamed yourself because your brother and sister tried to make you think it was your fault.
Liam’s father seemed to be almost in his own world as he continued justifying his behavior. “I was going to tell your mother that I refused to take the place of my son, and that I believed in your ability to run the business, but I never got the chance to have that conversation. You have to believe me,” Todd said, his voice cracking from the strain.
Liam seemed to sag. “I need to go,” he said. His eyes were far away as he spoke.
Grace went to him. “Liam,” she said, softly, not wanting to see the pain in his eyes, the rejection and sadness in his face.
“I’m sorry I didn’t tell you sooner,” Todd said again. “You have to believe me about this, son.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Liam replied. “I need to go.”
“I wasn’t going to sign the deal,” Todd replied. “I was intending to tell her no, tell her I wanted to discuss other options.”
“Just leave me alone, please,” Liam nearly shouted, and then he grabbed Grace by the hand and pulled her along. He was walking fast, holding her hand tightly as they exited the hotel room together.