Grounded (Up in the Air, #3)(5)

“Why are you still here, Jolene?” he asked coldly. “I told you to leave this morning, when you tried to barge, uninvited, into my office. Do I need to have you escorted from the property?”

A raw expression passed over her features so briefly that I thought I might have imagined it. Her beautiful face swiftly worked itself into a satisfied smile. She flipped her curly black hair behind her shoulders, thrusting her breasts into prominent display. As though they needed the help. “I’m here with Scott. He’s staying in the penthouse, and I’m his guest. Are you going to ask him to leave, as well?”

James moved close against my back, wrapping his arms around my shoulders. I could tell by her eyes on those arms that Jolene did not appreciate the sight. “Perhaps I’ll tell him what you’ve been up to. Just how tolerant do you think your husband will be if he knows that you’ve been up to your old tricks?”

She stiffened, looking just a touch alarmed, before schooling her face into a serene expression. “He won’t believe you. And even if he did, you’d never do that. You know how much it would hurt him.”

“It’s becoming very clear to me that the truth couldn’t possibly hurt Scott as much as you have, Jolene. I don’t have an ounce of patience left where you’re concerned. Keep that in mind.”

A movement caught the corner of my eye and I glanced behind Jolene, to where a figure was eating up the ground as a large man strode purposefully towards our group.

He was tall and lanky but still moved with the fit stride of an athlete. His coloring was similar to James’s, with light brown hair and very tan skin, though his had most likely come from the sun. As he got closer, I saw that his turbulent eyes were dark brown. At a glance he might have resembled James, but on closer inspection, his good looks were more rugged—less refined.

“I told you to stay away from my wife,” the man growled as soon as he was within earshot. I realized with a little jolt of surprise that the man looked very familiar. I couldn’t place where, but I had definitely seen his face somewhere. “Yet somehow, every time I turn my back for five minutes, here you are. You need to let her go, James.”

[page]James stiffened against me, but his tone was surprisingly bland when he spoke. “You need to think about what you’re saying, my friend. She hasn’t been honest with you, and if it was up to me, I’d never set eyes on her again. Your wife has been stalking me and my girlfriend, and I have had enough of it. I’m in a serious, committed relationship, and I want nothing to do with her. I didn’t touch Jolene when I found out she was your wife three years ago, and I most certainly wouldn’t now. If I could go back in time and save you some pain, Scott, I would have never touched her at all, and I certainly never would have introduced her to you. She’s not who you think she is. She’s not worthy of the pedestal you’ve put her on.”

Scott did not take his words the way that I knew James had intended him. I could tell by the sincerity in his voice that James had only been speaking the brutal truth.

Scott sneered. It made his face ugly. “Watch your mouth. You’re talking about my wife.” His raw gaze turned to me. “So he’s in a serious committed relationship with you, huh? You should know that he doesn’t know the meaning of those words. He’ll toss you aside like all the rest. If you’re lucky, he’ll pass you off to a rich friend when he’s done with you.”

I was turning into James’s chest even as he moved. I buried my face in his neck, gripping my arms around his ribs, holding on tight.

“Don’t,” I murmured into his neck. It stopped his movements. Scott had been trying to goad him, and I knew it had worked, but I needed James to control his temper—to control his fists. James wrapped stiff arms around me, as though unable to ignore my affectionate gesture, even in a rage.

“If you ever speak to her like that again, you will regret it,” James said, his voice filled with an awful rage.

Scott snorted, and even from that noise I could tell that his temper was every bit as close to the surface as James’s. “You’re worried what I’ll say to her? You f*cked my wife, James, God only knows how many times, and you’re worried that I’ll what…hurt your latest f*ck’s feelings?”

James turned me gently, ushering me to the elevators directly behind us. He stroked his hand over my hair, and I could feel that it was trembling. “My love,” he said, his voice hoarse, but still managing to be tender. “I need you to go upstairs. Please, wait for me. I’ll be joining you momentarily.” He pressed the button as he spoke, still clutching me close.

I wanted to say something, wanted to plead with him not to do anything rash, not to get himself into trouble, or worse, hurt, but I couldn’t seem to make myself speak.

The elevator stopped, the doors opening, and I stepped inside without a word. Blake and Johnny filed in behind me, and I was relieved that at least two of the bodyguards remained with James.

The elevator doors closed and we began to go up. I had no idea what floor we were going to, or even how many floors there were. I glanced at the panel to see, but my eyes just glossed over and I lost my train of thought.

The elevator finally stopped and I followed Blake out. My mind distractedly noticed that my surroundings were rich and opulent, my heels clicking smartly on dark marble floors, but my mind was still stuck on what could be going on downstairs—what I’d been too much of a coward to stay and watch, or even stay and prevent.

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