Reunited with the Lassiter Bride(2)

By: Barbara Dunlop

“Go to Paris or Hawaii.”

Deke grinned. “I’d go stir-crazy in Hawaii.”

“You’ve seen the tourism photos, right? The surf, the sand, the girls in bikinis?”

“There are girls in bikinis right here in Santa Monica.”

“I can take care of myself, Deke.”

Sure, it was a blow, summarily losing his job with Lassiter Media when J.D.’s will codicil kicked in and gave control of the company to Evan’s ex-fiancée Angelica. But he was already on the road to recovery.

“Don’t you remember how much fun we had?” Deke asked. “You, me, Lex, holed up in that crappy apartment in Venice Beach, worrying about student debt while we tried to build a business?”

“It was fun when we were twenty-three.”

“It’ll be fun again.”

“We failed,” Evan noted.

Instead of getting rich, the three of them ended up going their separate ways. Deke went into technology, Evan into business management, while Lex Baldwin was rising fast in the ranks of Asanti International, a luxury hotel chain.

“Yeah, but we’re way smarter now.”

Evan couldn’t stop a chopped laugh. “All evidence to the contrary?”

“Okay, I’m smarter now.”

“I want to be completely on my own this time,” said Evan.

He’d enjoyed working with J. D. Lassiter. The man was a genius. But he’d also turned out to be a manipulative old schemer. Family came first for J.D., always. And since Evan wasn’t family, he’d ended up as collateral damage when J.D. had set out to test the loyalty of his daughter.

Not that Evan blamed anyone for supporting their own family. If he’d had a family, he’d have supported them through thick and thin. But he had no brothers or sisters. And his parents had died in a car accident the day he turned seventeen.

He’d planned to have children with Angelica. He wanted a big family, big enough that none of them would ever have to be alone. But that obviously wasn’t going to happen now.

“I’ve got your back,” Deke told him, his tone low and sincere as he scrutinized Evan’s expression.

“I don’t need anybody to have my back.”

“Everybody needs somebody.”

“I thought I had Angie.” As soon as the words were out, Evan regretted them.

“But you didn’t.”

“I know.”

Angie had seemed like the woman of Evan’s dreams. But she’d bolted at the first sign of trouble. She’d turned her back on him and everybody else, isolating herself, refusing to trust him or her family.

“Better you found out before the wedding.”

“Sure,” Evan agreed, because it was the easiest thing to do.

Secretly, he couldn’t help but wonder what might have happened if J.D. had passed away after the wedding. As his wife, would Angie have tried any harder to trust him?

“She’s out of your life, Evan.”

“I know that.”

“You don’t look like a man who knows that.”

“I’ve got my head on straight. It’s over. I get that. I’m here in Santa Monica because it’s over.”

Maybe Evan would find someone else someday. Not that he could imagine when, how or who. If Angie wasn’t the real thing, he couldn’t fathom who was.

“I’m going to hold you to that,” said Deke, coming to his feet, rubbing his hands together. “Okay, first up, we get your business back on its feet. At the very least, your accomplishments at Lassiter Media will impress future clients.”

“They will be impressed,” Evan agreed. They’d be impressed with what he’d accomplished there. Some might even be impressed that he’d walked away.

* * *

Angelica Lassiter needed a fresh start. If there was a Reset button for life, she’d press it right now.

She’d fought with her family over her father’s will for five long months, only to discover J.D. had a master plan all along to test her ability to balance work with life. Although he’d first seemed to hand it to Evan, in the end, her father had given her exactly what she longed for: control of Lassiter Media. But she wasn’t proud of the way she’d fought for it. And she wasn’t proud of the way she’d treated Evan.

It was bad enough that she’d pushed her ex-fiancé away while she fought for her heritage. But she’d accused him of lying to her, of betraying her and conspiring to steal her inheritance. She’d been wrong on all counts, but there was no way to take it back.

“Ms. Lassiter?” Her administrative assistant appeared in the doorway of the empty boardroom.

“Yes, Becky.” Angelica turned from where she was gazing across the heart of downtown L.A.