Taking Care of Business(7)

By: Brenda Jackson


She glanced up at Tag. “Why did you give him the impression that we’re romantically involved?”

The corners of his lips turned up and she hated admitting how much she liked the way his smile seemed to touch his eyes. “Does it bother you that I did?”

She shrugged. “I could handle his comment. He’s not the first prejudiced person I’ve met in my lifetime and he won’t be the last. Over the years, I’ve experienced my fair share of bigotry,” she said softly.

“Well, that’s one thing I won’t tolerate.”

She believed him.

They began walking, and neither said anything for a few moments, then Renee decided to break the silence. She glanced over at him. “You never did say why you did it.”

Tag sighed. There was no way he was going to tell her that for a moment he hadn’t been able to help himself. He had refused to let Thomas think that his intentions toward her—if there had been any—were anything less than honorable. To insinuate that she wasn’t someone he could possibly take seriously had hit his last nerve because it was so far from the truth. And that, he quickly concluded, was the crux of his problem. Renee was someone he could take seriously if he was free to engage in a serious relationship. But he wasn’t. The situation with his mother was bad enough. Add to that what was happening at Elliott Publication Holdings and it was enough to make a nondrinker order a bottle of gin and guzzle the entire thing.

Knowing that she was waiting for an answer, he decided to give her one. “Thomas was going to think whatever he wanted without any help from me. You’re a beautiful woman and I don’t consider myself a bad-looking guy, so quite naturally people will assume we’re a couple.”

“And that doesn’t bother you?”

“No, but it evidently bothers you. I learned early in life, Renee, not to care what other people think.”

Renee ceased walking and placed a hand firmly on Tag’s arm. “And that’s probably just one of the many differences in our upbringings. I was raised to care what others think.”

Tag nodded. “In this case, with us, now, today, why should it matter?”

She raised her eyes heavenward. Did she have to spell it out for him? It wouldn’t matter if it were today or tomorrow. The circumstances would still be the same. “Because I’m black and you’re white, Tag.”

He smiled, and his eyes sparkled as if he’d just been told something scandalous, simply incredulous. “You’re joking,” he said in mock surprise. He took her hand, held it up to his, denoting the obvious contrast of their skin coloring. “Really? I hadn’t noticed.”

She couldn’t help but chuckle. And she couldn’t help but decide at that moment that she liked him. “Get real.”

“I am. And what’s real is that I like you and I enjoy your company. This is the most relaxed I’ve been in a long time, especially since finding out about my mother’s cancer and taking on added responsibilities at work. And I’m not about to let a bunch of prejudiced fools decide whom I should or should not date. As for my caring what others think, I’ve had to deal with people’s misconceptions all my life. They think just because my name is Elliott that I’ve had it easy.”

She hated admitting that she’d assumed the same thing. “And you haven’t?”

“Far from it. There’s no such word as easy with a grandfather like Patrick Elliott.”

Renee glanced over at Tag. “Tell me about him.”

They had reached the café where Tag had mentioned earlier would be a good place to eat. They sat down right away, the crowd from earlier that day having thinned out.

“Patrick Elliott is one tough old man. He was raised by Irish immigrants who instilled in him a strong work ethic. He worked to put himself through school and because of his keen mind and street smarts, he went to work at a magazine company and eventually founded his own empire.”

He paused when the waitress delivered their waters and gave them menus. Renee, who’d evidently been thirsty, took a deep gulp and licked the excess from around her lips. At that moment, a surge of desire hit Tag. It was so overwhelming, he had to briefly look away.

“And?”

He blinked at her single word. “And what?”

She smiled. “You were telling me about your grandfather, but I don’t think you were finished.”

He chuckled, thinking of how he’d gotten sidetracked. “Oh, yes, where was I?” he said, leaning back in his chair after taking a sip of his own water. “While in Ireland visiting family, he met and fell in love with a young seamstress named Maeve O’Grady. They eventually married and raised many children together. My grandparents have a very loving relationship. However, it’s my belief that my grandfather’s fear of poverty is what has made him devoted to his business.”