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Home > Because We Belong (Because You Are Mine #3)(8)

Because We Belong (Because You Are Mine #3)(8)
Author: Beth Kery

“If I don’t have a place in Ian’s life, how can I take a place in his damn company?” Francesca hissed, her anger breaking through her brittle emotional armor. Lucien’s face remained impassive, his enigmatic stare trained on her. He didn’t say out loud she was being selfish by clutching her resentment, but Francesca imagined that’s what he was thinking. Lucien had his own marriage and business concerns to look out for, after all, but he’d made time in his busy schedule to do his part in helping to oversee Ian’s company.

She gave Davie a wild glance, all the while knowing her good friend couldn’t help her in this. Damn, Ian. How could he have walked away from her at the same time he stitched her into the very fabric of his life, into the company he’d poured his blood and sweat into, where he’d given the very essence of himself?

She’d never felt so cornered.

Screw him. He’d forsaken both of them—his company and her, the two things he professed to care most about in the world. She was a wreck he’d left behind. Let his company be another travesty, it was nothing to her. It had once felt like she was burning alive to know he was in pain, and that he’d denied her the opportunity to offer solace. Her grief and hurt at his absence had been so great, her anxiety for his well-being so immense, it’d made a husk of her. Surely she had nothing left to give.

Despite her thoughts, a poignant memory of the last time she and Ian made love sliced into her consciousness.

Tell me you love me.

I love you so much.

Always.

Yes. Always.

“As I said, I understand why you’ve been determined to stay uninvolved,” Lucien said, bringing her back to the tense present moment. “People tend to hunker down when they’re in pain in order to nurse their wounds. It’s only natural . . . a healing instinct. But I’m still asking you to do this, Francesca, and not for myself.”

She barely controlled a shudder of grief. She winced and looked away from Lucien’s steady stare. He was speaking of her pain and reaction to it, of course, but he was referring to Ian’s as well. Isn’t that what he was doing? Holing up and licking his wounds?

“I’ll meet with all of you and see what you have to say, but I’m not promising anything,” she told him stiffly.

He nodded once. “That’s all I ask.”

* * *

The first heavy blow was seeing Ian’s large office, the very picture of masculine, austere luxury, and the familiar corner view of the river and skyline. Her thrumming heart leapt extra hard upon seeing the eager, concerned faces of Ian’s grandparents, Anne and James Noble.

She loved Anne and James. Confronting the harsh reality head on that she was no longer destined to be part of their family made breathing, let alone talking, a challenge for several seconds. She just nodded her head politely when Lucien introduced her to Ian’s cousin, Gerard Sinoit.

The only spot left at the gleaming cherrywood conference table was at the head. Francesca was forced to take the seat. “Thank you,” she said quietly once she’d sat, briefly meeting Lin Soong’s gaze as Ian’s executive assistant set a club soda with lime in front of her. Lin abruptly reached and squeezed her hand, as always, her genuine compassion and warmth a striking contrast to her cool beauty and polished professional elegance. Francesca turned her hand and squeezed back, thankful for the subtle show of support in these difficult circumstances.

“Lin, you’re welcome to stay for the meeting if you like. No one knows more about Noble Enterprises on the face of the earth, save Ian himself,” Gerard said kindly.

“This is a matter for the board to decide,” Lin said with a smile. “I’m right outside the door if I can be of any help.”

Gerard looked at Francesca in the silence following Lin’s departure. “We recognize this must be very difficult for you—”

Francesca shook her head once, and he halted. She gave him a weak apologetic smile at her abrupt gesture. “Can we please just get to the issue at hand? What’s happening with Tyake?”

Gerard cleared his throat, glancing from James to Lucien. Lucien just lifted his eyebrows expectantly, and Gerard launched into a description of Noble Enterprises’ bid for the gaming and technology conglomerate. Francesca listened carefully, studying him as he spoke. His presentation was eloquent, confident, and knowledgeable. She’d never met Ian’s cousin before, but knew Ian had called him “uncle” as a child, despite the fact that Gerard was only eight years older than Ian. Ian had only been ten when his grandparents had found him and his missing mother in northern France. When he’d returned with them to Britain, withdrawn and distrustful, Gerard had helped Anne and James to bring him out of himself and know security for the first time in his life.

Gerard looked younger than his thirty-nine years, the white dress shirt he wore along with a herringbone blazer highlighting his fit, muscular build. His hair was a chestnut brown that matched the color of his eyes, but she definitely could make out the slight nuances of a family resemblance. A flicker of annoyance went through her at the automatic thought as she searched Gerard’s face.

Would there ever come a time when she didn’t compare a man to Ian?

She knew that Gerard was an attorney, although he’d primarily used his legal education to help him manage his investments and properties, which were considerable. He was the owner of a hugely successful electronics firm that boasted lucrative private and government customers. She knew that Sinoit Electronics was one of Noble Enterprises’ suppliers, just as Ian provided Sinoit with certain patented computer technology. Ian had told her in the past Gerard possessed a brilliant business mind and had easily quadrupled his parents’ inheritance when they had died, passing it on to him at the tender age of eighteen. Gerard was also the heir to James Noble’s title of Earl of Stratham, although Ian would inherit his grandfather’s properties and fortune. As an illegitimate child, Ian could not inherit the title by law. As a result, the title would fall to James’s considerably younger sister Simone’s son, Gerard, who was the next male, legitimate descendent of James. Francesca recalled that Gerard was divorced and childless. He was also rich and quite handsome. All of those things had combined to make him one of the most eligible bachelors in Britain. Ian used to occasionally allude, with wry amusement, to that fact that Gerard was an expert at eluding the greedy grasp of a majority of women, while effortlessly seducing the select minority that pleased him. Now, Francesca understood firsthand what he’d meant.

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