Nick looked out the kitchen window. He could see them talking, could see Alex’s face.
“You have to trust her,” Sunny said, startling him; he hadn’t heard her approach.
“I do,” he said.
Sunny studied him and then said,
“She’ll always be fond of him, you know. Both of them. You’ll have to learn to live with that.”
“Because of them, her whole life changed,” Nick said, because he really did understand, even if he still couldn’t stop the twinge of jealousy, despite how much as it had faded. Time would help. “And if it wasn’t for that, I would have never met her.”
"That’s very true,” Sunny said. “She’s lived with a lot to be close to you. I think you can return the favor.”
“I can,” Nick said. “I absolutely can.”
(music – Greed – Godsmack)
They were packing up the truck when the SUV pulled into the drive – with brand new tires - and the fiery redhead in the classy black suit leaped out clutching papers in one well-manicured fist.
“Are you fucking serious?” Holly shouted, advancing on Nick and Alex. She no longer looked attractive. She looked shrewish. “500 K? You want me to take 500 K?”
“It’s more than you deserve,” Nick said. Alex loved his take-charge tone and loved even more that he was now using it on Holly. “I knew you wouldn’t leave with nothing in hand.” He shrugged. “Take it or end up in court with me, where I guarantee you’ll be embarrassed. Pictures. Of you and the boss man. In flagrante delicto.”
“I don’t care if you’ve got pictures of me and Davis,” Holly snorted. “I’ve got pictures of you and the tart here.”
“Should I get a shirt embroidered with ‘tart’ on it, do you think?” Alex asked Nick.
“You can have pictures of me with farm animals, I don’t really care,” Nick said to Holly. Alex stifled a snort of laughter. “I’ve got the paperwork on that land sale to IFG Industries. Turns out, you used the Castellan name and the family money to make that deal go through, even though the deal’s signed in your maiden name. I suppose you think you’re covering your tracks?” He snorted. “I have to tell you, if the rest of the family finds out, you are in a world of hurt, even though the land was yours long before we met. Annalise works hard to protect the company, and so does my mother. They don’t want to know you’ve just helped another aerospace company find a place to expand. Nothing like helping the competition.”
Holly blanched, mostly at the mention of Nick’s mother.
“You don’t have anything,” she said, but didn’t sound sure.
“Do you want to take the risk that the rest of the Castellans will find out?” Nick asked mildly, tossing the last bag into the truck bed and snapping the cover closed. “But you take this settlement, and the proof disappears, and neither my mother nor Annalise ever finds out about it – well, at least not from me. And you don’t get sued. Or worse, blacklisted from all those parties and restaurants you like.”
“You’re really serious,” Holly said, looking completely flummoxed. “After everything we’ve experienced together? You’re going to just walk out now?”
“Let me spell it out for you, Holly,” Nick said. “No. Money. You are not getting a dime more than what I’ve offered. You have been leading me around like a puppy since day one, and I’m not doing it anymore.”
“But I love you,” she said. “How can you do this to me?”
“Loved. Past tense, if even that,” Nick said. “I’m not falling for that anymore. We should never have gotten married. I really think you liked me at first, and when you found out about the money and the family privilege, you liked that better, until you realized I didn’t live the lifestyle of a ‘rich guy’. I’m a horseman, Holly, and a hunter. That’s it. You hate those things. I don’t do the stuff you like – the country clubs, the golf, the parties, none of it, and I’m sick of being dragged through all of that. That just means, in the end, you and I are not compatible. I’m done trying. Done.”
“That’s not fair, Nick,” Holly said, trying her wheedling tone. She really did look fetchingly sad now, all porcelain skin, green eyes and red waves. “After everything we’ve been through together-“
“Been through what?” Nick asked, spreading his hands. “I’ve been through the goddamn wringer with you. I have worked my ass off to save this relationship, until finally I figured out there was no relationship. Just you using my loyalties against me. You knew I would work as hard as I could once I had committed to you, so you’ve strung me along, spending the money, using the name – yes, I got the call from the maitre’d at Tavern on the Green and you had better hope my mother never hears how you threw the name around there or she will come down here in a New York minute and eat you for breakfast.”
“By the way, I’ve cancelled all the credit cards and tabs, and your name is off the lists at the restaurants and clubs,” Nick said. “If you and Davis want to keep going there, you have to do it with another name than mine. In fact, as part of the settlement, you’ll return to your maiden name, or face that blacklisting I talked about.”
“Why the name?” Holly asked. “Why is that such a big deal to you?”
“It’s a big deal to my family,” Nick said. “A name is a name, sure, but you’re hooked on the privilege it represents. My family believes in its legacy and in it representing good positive things, not your greed and avarice. So now that you’ve misused it, you can give it back.”
“Can’t we just talk about this?” Holly said, dropping her voice and looking sad and lonely. “Please. Can’t we just take some time, and talk about this?”
“You tried to run two of my friends off the road,” Nick said in exasperation. “What more is there to talk about? You’re lucky nobody got hurt and we didn’t call the police. I have nothing else to say to you. You will hear from me through my lawyer and that’s it. So leave me alone. Leave us alone. If I see you around the barn or any of my friends, I will let Dean have at you with that shotgun, and believe me, he’s still pissed about you hitting his car and calling it junk.”
“What is the big deal about that damn car?” Holly asked, clearly not getting it.
“Oh come on, let me have at her,” Alex said, a slow malicious smile spreading across her face. “I promised her a tossing out on her hiney.”
Nick gave her a ‘not helping’ look, although Alex saw his mouth quirk as he fought a smile, then he turned back to Holly.