Authors: Kelly Favor
Grace turned back one last time before leaving, and she saw Liam’s father standing alone in the center of the room, his face a mask of despair and guilt, and then they were out in the hallway and the door was closing behind them.
“I believe him,” she said softly.
“It doesn’t matter,” Liam muttered. “Let’s get the hell out of here.”
in Liam’s sports car, driving away from the hotel, and Liam was silent and his face was grim.
Grace looked at him. “Do you think Exley and Vera knew the truth?”
Liam was steering, watching the road for a long while. “Yes,” he said, and his voice was steely and cold.
“Why would they have tried to make you feel responsible for your mother’s death? Why didn’t they tell the truth about the will being changed to make your father head of the family business?”
Liam smirked. “Because they’re very, very clever.” He smiled wider, but there was unmistakable fury in his eyes now. “Maybe a little too clever for their own good.”
Grace felt a spike of electricity when she realized that Liam wasn’t lost right now—wasn’t overwhelmed or confused.
Yes, he’d been betrayed.
But he was driving with confidence and focus.
“Where are we going now?” she asked him.
He gave her a grin. “Time to pay my dear brother and sister a little visit,” he said.
They sped towards the destination.
hen they pulled
through the gates of Slough Castle, Grace was surprised to find that there were quite a few flashy cars parked in the main driveway.
Liam also seemed surprised. “Looks like Sister and Brother decided to have a bit of a shindig without inviting me,” he said, his tone at once sarcastic but also genuinely wounded beneath the humor.
“Are you sure you want to do this right now?” Grace asked, as he parked his car behind a silver Aston Martin. “It’s been a long day with a lot of drama. You’re tired, Liam.”
Liam turned off the engine and looked at Grace with kind eyes. “I’m okay, Grace. Really okay for the first time in my life. And I need to get this over with. I’ve waited years and years, let people push my buttons and tell me what to do for far too long.”
“Okay,” she said, taking his hand and giving a quick squeeze. “You know I’m with you. I love you so much.”
“And I love you. Now come on, we’ve got housecleaning to do.” He got out and so did Grace, and then they were walking towards the main entrance to the castle.
As they approached the door, Grace thought how ironic it was to be back at Slough after all this time.
She could still recall the wedding of Easton Rather and Kennedy as if it happened yesterday.
That day, she’d met the man who would change everything, and yet she hadn’t known it right away.
She’d thought that Liam was just another rich boy, a privileged jerk. She’d lumped him in with everyone and everything in life that had ever disappointed her.
She’d been so, so wrong about him.
Wrong about a lot of things.
They reached the front door and Liam opened it. Grace felt like they were breaking into the castle, even though technically Liam owned all of this property.
He owns everything.
Liam controls the entire dynasty.
For the first time ever, it truly hit her just how wealthy and powerful Liam Houston was. He’d been running away from that reality for a long time, and so neither of them had ever really dealt with it.
But here it was, and as they strode through the grand majestic rooms and halls, Grace was overwhelmed with the knowledge that her life had truly changed.
Nothing was ever going to be the same.
As they got closer to the dining hall, sounds began echoing out towards them. Murmurs, voices, the clink of silverware.
“Liam, are you sure?” she asked, her legs feeling shaky, butterflies in her belly now as she imagined entering that frighteningly austere and snooty environment, confronting her worst enemies.
“I’m sure. Don’t be afraid, beautiful. You’re a queen and they’re nothing but pretenders to the throne.” Liam’s eyes flashed mischievously and he grinned wickedly before opening the door and walking through.
Grace followed behind.
Inside, all conversation stopped as the heads turned and the wealthy elite stared at the interlopers.
, Grace’s panicked mind thought.
We should go.
This is wrong. We’ll be humiliated for this.
Vera and Exley were seated at either end of the long table, but there were at least eight others. They were mostly older white men and women, with thatches of silver or graying hair.
These were the wealthiest of the wealthy and you could see it in their eyes.
Everybody was dressed in suits or gorgeous dresses.
They were eating a main course from the looks of it—something like beef with a thick brown sauce, and their crystal glasses were filled with champagne.
The silence of the room was as profound as anything Vera had ever heard.
The silence and disapproval of their presence said more than a thousand screams.
But Liam was relaxed in the face of it. “Hello, good to see you all. Apologies for the interruption,” he smiled.
“Liam, what are you doing here?” Vera asked, rising from her seat at the head of the table. “If I’d known you were in the area…”
“You’d have sent me somewhere far away?” Liam quipped.
A few of the people at the table chuckled softly, but Vera’s narrowing eyes quieted even that. She walked towards them, her face stern. “This isn’t the time,” she muttered through grit teeth. “Now out you go.”
Liam didn’t move. He folded his arms. “This is my home, Vera. I don’t see where you get off telling me I can’t be in my own home.”
She looked at him and seemed to notice a difference in his eyes. Then her gaze landed on Grace “What is she doing here, Liam? I thought this had been settled.”
“No, Vera,” Liam said. “You don’t settle anything when it comes to who I love.”
Vera’s eye twitched. “All I know is that someone cashed that check for two hundred thousand dollars.”
“It went to a lovely couple,” Grace told her, smirking. “They needed a downpayment on a home. I hardly knew them.”
Vera smiled frostily, like a shark. But she seemed calm as she looked at Liam once more. “Right now is not the best time for this, dear brother. If you have…issues…things to discuss, then save them. We’re here to celebrate a collaboration with a very prestigious family who wishes to have us act as brokers for a vast selection of properties, with locations across the world, from Tokyo to Israel to France and Los Angeles.”
Liam nodded. “I see. And you didn’t inform me of this collaboration?”
“Because,” Vera said, her voice somehow softening and quieting, yet sounding even more angry and vicious, “you never wanted to know a damn thing about our family business until just this second.” She took a deep breath and tried to smile more evenly. “Now is not the time for any foolishness. Give me an hour to wrap things up and we’ll speak.”
Liam seemed to consider her request, and reluctantly accept. “All right,” he acknowledged. “We’ll wait. But this conversation has to happen today. I won’t be put off.”
“Yes, of course,” Vera said, as if knowing she’d already won. And then she glanced dismissively at Grace before saying to Liam, “Besides, she’s not exactly dressed for this kind of company.”
Grace blinked, feeling her face flush. But she kept her mouth tightly shut.
Liam, however, was now staring at his sister with a look on his face that Grace had only seen from him when he was engaged in a fistfight.
“What did you just say?” he asked, his voice sounding menacing.
“Liam, please calm down. It was a little joke,” Vera said, turning away from them.
“I was going to do you a favor and not humiliate you in front of your guests,” Liam announced to the room. “But since you’ve insulted the woman I love, I think all bets are off.”
Exley shook his head from where he sat. “Liam, don’t do this.”
Vera spun, her rage unleashed. “You’ll humiliate me, you ingrate? All you’ve done is show these good people what a fool you are. Nothing will ever change you. And since that is the case, I’m through trying to protect you.”
“Protect me?” Liam said, grinning. “The same way you protected Dad?”
“I don’t even know what you’re talking about,” Vera replied, but her pale cheeks were crimson.
“You know what I’m talking about,” Liam said, his eyes cool and penetrating. “But it doesn’t matter anymore, because I figured out your little scheme. It’s over, Vera.”
She arched an eyebrow. “You’re only in charge because Ex and I let you be, and we can freeze you out all over again if we decide to.”
“No you can’t,” Liam said. “You’re just a liar.”
“Get out of this room,” she said. “Or I’ll have you removed.”
“I own this house and everything in it,” Liam said. “You and Exley never had any claim to our family fortune. Mother was only considering putting our father in charge, and even that was never settled, because she died before he ever agreed to anything. Which means I’m still the rightful heir and you know it. You only hoped I’d never care enough to figure that part out.”
Vera’s shocked expression told Grace that Liam was right about everything he was saying.
“I was trying to protect our family from your incompetence,” Vera replied.
“Bullshit,” Liam said. “You and Ex were trying to control the money and the power and use me as a pawn. Everything you did was premeditated and calculating. And it probably would’ve worked if you hadn’t messed with the woman I’m intending to marry.”
Now it was Grace’s turn to have her mouth drop open in shock.
One of the old men sitting at the table stood. “I have to say, this is all making us gravely reconsidering our business partnership with the Houston family. And also, it’s become very uncomfortable to sit here and listen. So we’re going to leave now.”
They started all getting up at once, and Exley urged them not to be hasty, not to leave.
Vera’s hands were clenched into fists. “You’re going to
her?” she scoffed. “You’ve broken up with her more times than I can count. You’re only doing this to hurt me and Exley—to punish us. But the real punishment will be yours, because you’re the one who’s going to have to live with her.”
Suddenly, Grace stepped forward. “Shut your nasty mouth, Vera,” she said, her voice sounding surprisingly strong in her own ears. “You’ve said quite enough about me and I’ve had it.”
“You’ve had it?” Vera laughed bitterly. “I’m sorry if I don’t pretend to care about your feelings. You’re a gold digger who got between me and the people I love.”
“You don’t love Liam,” Grace said. “You lied to him about your mother’s death. You told him it was his fault she died so that he’d be useless and you could take over the business.”
“How dare you accuse me of that?” Vera cried. “You stupid little bitch.”
Grace smiled. “Coming from you, I take that as the highest compliment.”
Vera tried to slap her.
Grace reacted instantly, raising her arm and blocking the blow. Vera’s arm was surprisingly weak. In the same instant, Grace used her free hand to slap Vera hard across the face.
“That’s for what you did to my brother’s business,” Grace said.
Vera blinked, her eyes wide with shock. “You—you hit me.”
And then Grace used her other hand to slap Vera just as hard across the opposite side of her face.
“And that’s for making Liam think he was the reason his mother got in a car accident, when you knew better.”
The two woman stood there and stared at one another.
Grace silently dared Vera to say one more insult. But Vera did no such thing. She dropped her gaze and when she looked up once more, her eyes were full with unshed tears. “I did what I did for my family. You’ll never understand what that means, no matter how hard you try to ingratiate yourself with us.”
“I’m not ever going to try and ingratiate myself with you, Vera. You’re not worth my time.”
At that moment, Liam stepped in between them. “Okay, okay, now,” he said, gently taking hold of Grace by the shoulders and looking her in the eyes, as if to tell her that she’d gone far enough.
Meanwhile, the people who’d been celebrating their business deal around the table were now all leaving the room as quickly as they could—which wasn’t all that fast, given their ages.
But they wanted nothing more to do with the Houston clan. That much was obvious.
“So that’s it?” Exley asked, his voice cutting like a knife. “You waltz in here and lob accusations at us, sick your little pit-bull of a girlfriend on our sister, and then destroy our deal in the process? A deal Vera and I have been working on for months.”
Liam turned his attention to Exley. “These aren’t accusations, little brother, and you know it. I am quite certain you paid off Candace McArthur to say those things about Father. As we all know, Mother loved to put morality clauses into all of her contracts. You figured if you tarnished Dad’s name and got him disbarred, he’d have no claim to the business.”
“That’s a theory,” Exley shrugged.
“Maybe it’s just a theory,” Liam said. “But the forensic accountants will have no trouble tracing your payments once I tell them what to look for. And I don’t think our father will be very happy when he realizes you were willing to throw him under the bus without even trying to talk to him first.”
“You wouldn’t do that,” Vera said. “You wouldn’t tell him these things and hurt him only to spite us. It’s not your style.”
“No, Vera, that’s exactly Liam’s style,” Exley retorted. He walked forward, his aristocratic features transforming into a mask of hate and repugnance. “He’s never wanted to be part of our family, so it figures he’d rather see us all burnt to the ground.”
“Stop being so dramatic,” Liam replied. “If you and Vera can behave yourselves for five minutes, I’ll consider letting Dad stay in the dark about just who was behind these antics. Candace will go quietly away and Father will be glad to put all of this behind him.”