Read Blown away Online

Authors: Cheryl Douglas

Blown away (page 13)

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“People seethat you donate to charities, but they don’t know that you dish outsoup to the homeless or pass out sleeping bags from the back ofyour truck on cold winter nights. They don’t know you bought giftsfor all of the kids stuck in this hospital on Christmas day lastyear.”

“And I trustyou’ll never tell anyone about those things.” Brent and his fathershared a smile. They would never forget where they’d come from orhow hard it had been. They were always one paycheck away from beingthat family living in their car. Brent would always have compassionand feel obligated to help the people who’d ended up there throughno fault of their own.

“Your secret issafe with me.” Jerry winked. “Enough of this sappy stuff. Tell mewhy you beat the hell out of Rea. And don’t even think about lyingto me. You still have a thing for Jamie? Is that what it wasabout?”

“No, it hadnothing to do with Jamie.” Brent shoved his hands in his pockets.“Or maybe it did, in a roundabout way. I never really dealt withwhat happened back then. I just told her to get out of my life, andshe did. I never saw her or Rea again. I don’t know, maybe therewas some residual resentment I should have dealt with.”

Jerry chuckled.“Ya think? From what I hear, you went all Charles Bronson on hisass.”

Brent laughed.Only his father could make him laugh when his gut was twisted up inknots. “Charles Bronson? Really, Dad?”

“Just get onwith your story already. Why’d ya kick his ass?”

“I walked intoJimmy’s and saw him dancing with Ava.”

“Ava? That’sthe girl you were all worked up about the other day when youstopped by the house in the middle of a workday?”

“Yeah, she’sthe one.” Brent realized as soon as the words left his mouth thatthey were true. She wasthe one, the only one for him.Without her, things that used to matter to him didn’t anymore. Thefuture he’d mapped out took on a muted shade of gray instead of thevivid Technicolor he envisioned every time Ava stepped into thepicture.

“So why are youstandin’ here with me when you should be down on your knees beggin’Ava to forgive you for bein’ such a stupid son of a bitch?” Hesmiled when Brent scowled. “Don’t even try to deny it. You wentcrazy ‘cause she was dancin’ with some other guy. That’s juststupid.”

“It wasn’t justsome other guy. It was Rea.”

“Speaking ofRea, have you talked to him?”

“Yeah, we’regood.”

“I don’t knowhow you could be. I heard you knocked a few of his teeth out.”

Brent rolledhis eyes. “Haven’t I told you not to believe everything youread?”

“Get out ofhere. I need my beauty sleep.”

“You sure Ican’t get you anything before I leave?”

“No, but whenyou come back, you can bring me one of those juicy burgers withfries from--”

“I’m not gonnasmuggle that in here. Nurse Ratchet at the front desk will smell itfrom a mile away. You’re getting out tomorrow. You can have onethen.”

Jerry reclinedand settled in for a nap. “Since when did you start followin’ therules?”

“Since breakingthem may have cost me the best thing that ever happened to me,”Brent said quietly as he walked out the door.

 

***

 

Ava was tryingto concentrate on work when Jamie or Jasmine or whatever she calledherself knocked on her office door. “What can I do for you?”

Jasmine smiled.“I know you’re busy, but do you have a minute? I’d really like totalk to you.”

Deciding theday couldn’t get much worse, Ava motioned for her to come in. Shehadn’t seen or spoken to Brent in almost three weeks, and she wasquestioning whether they would ever find their way back to eachother.

“This won’ttake long,” Jasmine said, smiling, as she claimed the seat acrossfrom Ava. “This is about Brent.”

“I assumed asmuch. We don’t have anything else in common.” Ava winced when sherealized how that sounded. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to be rude.It’s just been one of those days.” Tomorrow or the day after thatdidn’t look much better. Life without Brent seemed bleak, almostpointless.

“I understand.”Jasmine folded her hands on top of her large leather case. “I knowit’s none of my business, but do you think you can find a way toforgive him? He’s miserable without you.”

Ava wasstunned, but she hoped she was doing a fair job of masking hersurprise. “How would you know that?”

“We’ve beenworking together on his house.”

“I see.” Thethought of Brent working so closely with his ex, a woman obviouslystill in love with him, was difficult for Ava to swallow.

“I’d alreadycompleted the drawings years ago. They were exactly what he wanted,so he didn’t see any reason to start over with another architect.”She withdrew the plans from her portfolio and set them on Ava’sdesk. “This is his dream house.”

Ava looked atthe plans, complete with a full-color artist’s rendering. It wasstunning. Natural stone with subtle cedar accents that blended intothe surroundings. Ava envisioned it up on that hill, overlookingthe stunning view of his private lake. Lazy afternoons on thewater, drifting in his sailboat, morning coffee on the wraparounddeck or sunsets on lawn chairs at the end of the dock. She smiledas she imagined roasting marshmallows with their family and friendsaround the fire pit.

“You’resmiling,” Jasmine said. “That must mean you like it.”

“I love it,”she whispered, gliding her fingertip over the pitched cedarroof.

“You couldimagine yourself living here with him.”

It wasn’t aquestion, it was a statement, so Ava didn’t feel obligated torespond. She simply waited for Jasmine to continue. If she wantedto rub Ava’s nose in the fact she was the one helping Brent torealize his dream, she’d already achieved her objective.

“He can’timagine living here without you.” Ava looked up, holding her breathas she waited for Jasmine to continue. “You’re part of his dream,Ava. The biggest part.”

“Why are youtelling me this?”

“Because Iloved Brent once. I want him to be happy, and I can see that beingwithout you is making him miserable. He needs you. Money won’t makehim happy. No matter how many companies he owns, business won’tmake him happy either.”

“What will?”Ava wasn’t even certain she knew. Asking his ex-fiancée for insightwas humbling, but if Jasmine could help her understand Brent, Avawas willing to listen.

“You.” Shesmiled, though it never quite reached her eyes. “Just you.”

Ava’s heartwent out to the other woman when Jasmine cleared her throat. Shewas obviously fighting back tears. Ava couldn’t even imagine howshe would feel if their situations were reversed and Brent was inlove with Jasmine.

“Don’t punishhim because he made one mistake, Ava. We all make mistakes. Trustme, I know.”

Ava looked downat the drawings. “I’ll call him. Maybe we can get together tonightand figure out where we go from here.”

“He’s going tobe at the site at three. I’m supposed to meet him there, but I havea feeling he’d be happier if you showed up instead.” Jasmine got upand straightened her skirt. “Good luck.”

Ava tried tohand the drawings back, but Jasmine shook her head. “They’re yours.Don’t make the same mistake I did. Brent’s the kind of man youspend your life trying to forget, but you never quite do. You havea chance at a life most women only dream about. Don’t let fear getin the way.”

 

***

 

Brent sat inthe driveway of the colonial mansion he’d vowed he would never setfoot in again. But he was only a boy then. He’d become a man, andhe had to face his problems. He couldn’t use his money to bully theweaker man anymore. It was time to lay his cards on the table andtry to make up for the years they’d lost. Brent stood in front ofthe double doors and drew a deep breath before he found the courageto ring the doorbell.

Hishalf-brother, Jace, answered the door. “What the hell are you doinghere?”

The two men hadnever been friendly… not since fifteen-year-old Jace showed up atBrent’s office and asked Brent why he didn’t want to have arelationship with him. That conversation filled Brent with shame.He’d told the kid he was a stranger to him and that’s how he wantedit to stay. Sharing the same mother was an accident of birth. Itdidn’t make them family. That’s how he’d felt then. His father’srecent brush with death and the knowledge that his father had beenable to forgive made him realize it was time for him to do thesame. Forgive and ask for forgiveness.

“I came to talkto you and your parents.” He stuck his hands in his pockets, tryingnot to look adversarial. “Are they around?”

“My dad hasn’tbeen feeling too well,” Jace said, gripping the doorknob. “He’sbeen under a lot of stress, thanks to you.”

“That’s whatI’d like to talk to y’all about. I might have a solution to yourproblem.” Brent hoped he did. He would never consider Martin afriend, or even a stepfather, but he didn’t want to be his enemyanymore. He had a better understanding of what prompted his motherto leave, and he couldn’t hold Martin responsible.

“What’s yourangle, Armstrong?” Jace asked, narrowing his eyes. “Are you here tolull us into a false sense of security before you lower theboom?”

Jace had everyreason to be suspicious, but Brent wouldn’t allow that to deterhim. “I haven’t got all day, kid. Are you gonna let me in ornot?”

“Fine.” Hestepped away from the door. “I’ll let them know you’re here.”

Brent wanderedthrough the marble foyer into the sunken living room. He wassurprised to find framed pictures of himself and Keith on themantle alongside pictures of Jace. Brent realized Jerry must havegiven them to his mother.

“Brent,”Claudia said, entering the room ahead of her husband, “this is asurprise. What brings you by?”

Brent couldtell she was trying to act casual, but the tremor in her voice gaveher away. “I had a talk with Dad, and I thought a lot about whatyou said, Mother.” He was tempted to call her by her first name,just to let her know he wasn’t ready to welcome her back into hislife with open arms just yet. He decided that she knew it wouldtake time. They would have to get to know each other and hopefullybuild a new kind of relationship, as adults.

“I see.” Shegestured to the sofa when Jace and Martin claimed the twoarmchairs. “Please sit down. Can I get you a drink?”

“No, thank you.This won’t take long.” He looked at Martin. “I’ve decided a hostiletakeover isn’t the best approach to take with your company.”

Martin sat upstraighter, a glimmer of hope in his dark eyes. “What are yourplans?”

“I think I canturn things around.” Brent set one elbow on the mantle and put theother hand in his pocket, adopting a casual pose he knew wouldconvey his message: He was still the one in charge. He was throwingthem a bone. They could choose not to accept it, but they wouldn’tget a second chance. “I’d like to suggest you hang on to yourshares of the company for now.”

“Why?” Jaceasked, crossing his arms. “You’ve already driven the valuedown--”

Martin held hishand up. “Let’s hear him out, Jace.” Martin obviously wasn’t astupid man. He knew Brent had backed him into a corner. He couldeither surrender or come out fighting a losing battle.

Brentcontinued. “I’m confident I can turn things around. With a few keychanges, we can make the company profitable again within eighteenmonths. If you want to sell your shares at that time, I’d be happyto buy them at fair market value.”

“Why are youoffering to do this?” Martin asked, leaning forward. “You hateme.”

Brent shrugged.He’d never allowed emotions in any of his business dealings, butMartin’s company had always been the exception. Whether they wanteda relationship with him or not was irrelevant; Jace and Claudiawere still his family. “I’m a venture capitalist. I like makingmoney and I believe in mitigating risk.”

“Why am Ihaving a hard time believing this?” Martin asked, shaking hishead.

“Probablybecause I’ve hated you since the first time I laid eyes on you.Ruining your life became my life’s work.” Brent’s lips turned up atone corner. “It drove me to make a lot of money over the years, soI really can’t complain about the outcome.”

Martin matchedBrent’s half smile. “I’m glad I could be of service.”

Brent glancedat his mother, who looked stunned. “I thought I had all theanswers. It turns out, I didn’t.”

“Yourfather...” Claudia looked from her husband to her eldest son. “Ishe responsible for this?”

“I make my owndecisions.” Brent cast a glance at Jace, who looked as surprised ashis parents. “You’ve made a lot of mistakes with the company, kid.I’m going to assume it had more to do with inexperience thanstupidity.”

Jace glared athim. “Who are you to tell me--”

“My trackrecord speaks for itself. I buy and sell companies like yours everyday. My brother…” He cleared his throat. “Ourbrother,Keith, is an expert at restructuring companies like yours to makethem profitable. He can work with you for the next year, help youto establish your deficiencies and create an action plan forcorrecting them.”

Jace asked,“Why would he want to do that?”

“Becausewhether we like it or not, we’re family.” Brent caught Claudiawiping a stray tear from her cheek. “I don’t know that we’re evengoing to like each other. Maybe too much damage has already beendone, but I’m willing to accept my share of blame if y’all arewilling to start over and try to figure out a way to make thiswork.”

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