“Are you trying to hide me?”
“No. I’d really prefer not to taint what we have with his presence.”
“You’re being dramatic. I’d love to meet your brother.”
“Fine. I’m probably overreacting. But don’t…just because he’s my brother don’t assume he’s trustworthy,” Harvey said, taking her hand and appealing to her. She was struck by how desperate he seemed.
“Is he going to tattle on all the trouble you got into as a kid?”
“If only it were that. He’s spent the last few years in Europe. Before that, he spent a bit of time in Asia until he was formally asked to remove himself from Thailand’s borders by the local government.”
“Thailand kicked him out? Like that whole country?”
“That’s exactly what I’m saying. Look, Ryan is—very like our mother in that he has an agenda. If the guy orders toast for breakfast, you can bet there’s an ulterior motive, and he intends to—”
“Leverage the toast against me in a hostile takeover?”
“You don’t know my brother,” he said, “I’m seriously nervous about this.”
“What’s he doing here if you hate him?”
“I don’t hate him. I just don’t enjoy his company. He turns up on occasion.”
“Does he need money?”
“Unlikely. My father didn’t exactly leave his sons impoverished. I’ve parlayed my inheritance into a successful corporate career. Ryan is intent on pissing his away on travel and women, but it would take him several lifetimes to actually run through that inheritance.”
“If you have that much money why did you care about losing your job at Bellingford? I mean, you hired me to be your girlfriend why exactly?”
“I didn’t want a stain on my professional reputation,” he said as if it were obvious.
“So quit stalling and let’s go meet your evil twin.”
“You say that like it’s a joke,” he said tightly and led her inside.
Harvey wished the smarmy son of a bitch had stayed gone. He was havoc in a leather jacket and there was no way around it. Having his brother near Bella made his skin crawl. Ryan wasn’t evil so much as he was insinuating. He could make you believe practically anything given enough time. Only those who knew him best—like his twin—knew he was always playing a game, a game he’d always win. So if Ryan decided it amused him to take Bella away, to make her fall for him in a matter of days, to convince the board of Bellingford that he was Harvey, and Harvey was an imposter (a stunt he’d pulled in college that nearly cost Harvey his MBA), it was only a matter of time before it was accomplished.
Harvey loved his brother and hated him. He’d wondered more than once if it would take a silver bullet to kill him. He wondered soberly if one of these days he wouldn’t have to be the one to pull that trigger himself. Because Ryan was destructive, and he took no prisoners. Harvey had been much happier when his brother was drinking and gaming his way through Europe’s finer casinos and brothels. Now here he was, drinking the good Scotch in Harvey’s living room.
He saw how Bella looked from one to the other of them as if stunned at the almost supernatural resemblance. Ryan’s hair was shorter. His posture was tighter, coiled almost. Was there really a threat to the way he was seated on a couch, arms flung wide as if in dominance? Or was that a construct of Harvey’s mind? He felt threatened, felt that his home was invaded. There was only one thing to do.
“Tomorrow you’ll get a room in Phoenix if you intend to stay.”
“Good to see you as well, brother,” Ryan said smoothly, “Who’s your little friend?”
“Bella James, this is Ryan Carlson, my little brother.”
“By four minutes,” Ryan corrected, all slick charm as he bowed over Bella’s hand and kissed it. “Haven’t you heard of saving the best for last?”
“I’m happy to meet you. It’s a surprise,” Bella said graciously.
“Never say my so-responsible older brother failed to inform you of my existence,” Ryan said, “When we both know he’s as proud of me as I am of him. Have a walk with me, show me over the grounds and we can trade stories about Harvey. Such a fine young man,” Ryan said acidly.
“I’m so sorry, but I have some things to take care of. It was great to meet you, and I’ll see you at dinner,” she said, and Harvey breathed a sigh of relief. Her resistance to his brother was a welcome respite. Of course Ryan would get to her, but not now. Maybe he could convince his brother to leave before dinner or maybe he could persuade Bella to go visit someone for a few days. Keeping them apart was crucial.
He watched Bella go upstairs and then wheeled on Ryan, “What do you want?”
“Want? Why, to spend a bit of quality time with my one and only twin. It’s been an age since we saw one another. I’m sure you realize my phone has facial recognition software, and I began to receive the most alarming notifications—my face spotted in some drab American fairy tale with the housemaid. The headlines are everywhere, brother. Imagine how it makes me look.”