I strolled through the lobby of Bancroft Estates, nodding and smiling to the many employees milling about the ground floor of the high-rise building of the company headquarters. I rode the elevator up, going through the process of acknowledging the people who worked on our floor. I approached my office, with Jack Bancroft Vice President of Operations emblazoned across the door.
I stepped inside my office, set my briefcase down, and took a seat behind the desk. My secretary strolled in a minute later, bringing me a cup of coffee and a stack of papers.
“Good morning,” she said in a cheery voice.
“Hi, Danielle,” I said, then smiled.
“Grayson wants to see you when you get a minute,” she announced.
“He’s already in?” I asked in surprise, checking my watch to make sure I hadn’t somehow lost an hour.
She smiled. “He is. He said he was up, so he may as well go to work.”
I laughed, thinking about my sleep-deprived brother. Little Leah Bancroft was putting her daddy through his paces. Like a trooper, he was hanging tough. Hannah refused to hire a nanny and Grayson, not wanting to irritate his wife, went along with it.
“I’ll head over there in a minute. Coffee first. Anything exciting today?” I asked, making small talk with her.
We had been friends for years and I enjoyed the friendly relationship we had. She was one of the only women I had a purely platonic relationship with.
“Nothing too exciting. Do you have any plans for the weekend?”
I smiled. “I have a hot date tonight,” I said, waggling my eyebrows.
She laughed, seeing right through me. “Mama Bancroft?”
“How’d you know?”
“You Bancroft boys are mama’s boys and I know you would never tell me you had a hot date. You’d say something like you were going out for a bit or having drinks with some girl.”
I sighed. “You’re right. Yes, dinner with Mom, and the rest of the weekend … I don’t know. No plans.”
“Be nice to your brother. I’m glad I haven’t had to turn the hose on the two of you in a good long while, don’t ruin your streak.”
I stood up, buttoned my suit jacket again, and grabbed my coffee. “Those days are behind us. We’ve turned over a new leaf.”
“Good. I like you two being nice to each other. It certainly makes for a much better work environment.”
“I’ll keep that in mind the next time I want to kick his ass,” I quipped, carrying my coffee out of my office and heading toward Grayson’s office.
I was grateful we had managed to repair our relationship—it had only taken thirty-four years, I mused. Now that Grayson was convinced I wasn’t interested in being the head of the company. Grayson, out of the six of us, was the only one truly interested in running the company. For whatever crazy reason, he’d gotten it in his head that we all wanted the company, most especially me. He couldn’t be more wrong. I liked being the spare. I didn’t have all the stress and pressure he had to be great. I could just be me and date who I wanted—almost.
I smiled at the woman waiting on one of the couches in front of Grayson’s office. She smiled at me and made eyes. I smiled back, not encouraging her. I wasn’t interested. I had eyes for only one woman.
“I see you have an admirer,” Grayson’s deep voice came out from behind me.
I turned, shrugged a shoulder, and followed him into his office. “You rang?”
He nodded. “Are you going to Mom’s?”
He shrugged. “I was just wondering. Wanted to make sure someone was visiting here this weekend. I was supposed to, but I think Hannah and I are going to stay in for the night.”
I nodded. “Ah, I see.”
He was a happily married man and a new father. I couldn’t begrudge him of that. I was happy for him. I only wished I could find that same happiness. I was a tiny bit jealous, but him being happy made my life easier. I hoped Natasha Levy and I could one day have a relationship, but deep down, I had to accept it would cost me a great deal. I wasn’t sure I was ready to pay the price.
“How is Leah?” I asked.
His face lit up at the sound of his daughter’s name. “She’s great. Growing like crazy.”
I smiled. “Good. I saw the report for the makeup line. Things are going very well.”
He nodded. “They are. Hannah is already working on something new.”
We chatted a bit more before I left to get back to my own office. The day stretched on and before I knew it, I found myself in the back seat of the town car, my driver taking me out to Mom’s for dinner. I was looking forward to a little time alone with her. With a big family it was a little tough to get our only surviving parent to ourselves.
“Hi, Mom,” I said and greeted her with a kiss on the cheek.
“Good evening, Jack,” she said, kissing my cheek in return.
“I’m sorry I’m late,” I apologized.
“It’s fine. We won’t have time for drinks before dinner. The cook is already holding it,” she said in a tight voice.
I knew she was irritated by my tardiness. She did not appreciate anyone running late. We were seated immediately with dinner served within minutes of sitting down.
“How’ve you been?” she asked.
I knew what she was really asking. “I’m fine, Mom.”
“I only want you to be happy. You aren’t getting any younger. It’s time to think about finding a woman you can spend your life with.”
I let out a long sigh. I couldn’t very well tell her I already had a woman in mind. She wouldn’t approve. Hell, she’d forbid it and try to ground me. For now, Natasha was my secret.
“I’m looking for the right woman. I haven’t found her yet,” I lied.
She smiled. “You’ve always been a loner. Even around here. You and Grayson should have been close, but instead, you both kind of separated yourselves from everyone else.”
“You’re a loner. I get it from you. You know I prefer to keep a close circle,” I said, shrugging a shoulder.
She chuckled. “I’m not a loner. I don’t know that I’ve been alone in thirty-five years.”
“We don’t count,” I pointed out.
“You boys do count. You are my life. I don’t regret it for a minute.”
I watched her closely. I didn’t detect sadness or regret. “Were you really happy, Mom? You rarely went out with friends. You were always at our games or going to one of Dad’s charity events. I mean, you never went to the movies or shopping with girlfriends.”
She nodded. “I was very happy. You may not understand it, but my joy came from doing things with all of you. To be honest, I had a couple girlfriends, but the more successful your father became, the less I could trust them.”
I nodded. I knew exactly what she was talking about. My dad was an attractive man and extremely wealthy. Women—married, single, young, or old—were always throwing themselves at him.
“Are you happy now?” I asked in a soft voice.
She smiled. “I am. I miss your father, but I’m not going to dwell on the sadness. He was a good man, my partner, and my everything. I’m not interested in finding another husband. I had my one true love. I want to focus on my family.”
“Mom, I don’t think any of us would be upset with you if you wanted to date. You deserve to be happy,” I insisted.
She waved a hand through the air. “I’m not interested. I’m not saying I never will be, but right now, I have too much to be happy about. I’ve got one of my sons married off and I have a beautiful granddaughter and a daughter-in-law I absolutely adore. I’m looking forward to the future with lots of grandchildren and more daughters-in-law.”
I laughed. “You’re that confident, are you?”
“My boys are handsome, well-spoken, and most of you are charming. What woman wouldn’t want to marry a Bancroft man?” she said nonchalantly.
I had at least one name, but I would keep it to myself.
“I think it will happen in time, Mom. This isn’t something you can rush,” I told her.
She cleared her throat and looked a little uncomfortable. “Jack, there’s something I need to tell you.”
That didn’t sound good. “What’s wrong?”
“It isn’t that anything is wrong,” she started.
“Mason is coming home for a while,” she said on a long breath.
I stiffened. “What?”
She nodded. “He called a couple days ago to let me know he was coming home for a while.”
I groaned. “Is he running from the law? The mob? Is his face on a wanted poster somewhere?”
“Stop. I doubt it’s like that,” she scolded.
“I bet it’s exactly like that. When is he coming?” I asked, not excited to see him.
She shrugged. “He didn’t give me an exact time. I expect soon.”
I nodded. “Then I should probably get going. I’m not interested in seeing him.”
“Jack, I will not put up with another fight between brothers. I will make you hug him and sit in the same room with each other until you both get this worked out,” she said in that familiar, firm tone.
I rolled my eyes. “I’m not hugging Mason.”
She took a drink from her wineglass. “We’ll see about that.”
I knew there would be no seeing anything. Mason was my brother, but he and I had never been close. Hell, Mason had never been close to anyone, not even our parents. He was a free spirt and the ultimate black sheep. He loved his image and played it up. I didn’t know how many tattoos the guy had anymore.
“I should get going,” I murmured, trying to think of a good excuse.
She smiled and nodded. “Please don’t let Mason keep you away. It’s a big house. There’s room for everyone.”
“I know, Mom. I’ll call you in a couple days,” I said, rising from the table.
I knew it was a little rude to get up and leave immediately after dinner, but I did not want to risk running into Mason. I walked out and got in the car to be driven home to my town house. Grayson’s new life had gotten me thinking. I was only a year younger than him. I had never set out to be a bachelor. The problem was, the only woman I wanted couldn’t be with me.
I should move on. I knew that. I could find another woman. Unfortunately, every time I tried to date or even hook up with a woman for a mindless one-night-stand, it was Natasha’s face I saw. It was her I wanted. There would never be a replacement for her. I could probably find a woman who would warm my bed, give me children, and even be a good friend, but I seriously doubted I would ever truly love a woman with my whole heart.
I hated keeping the relationship from my mother, but I didn’t want to hurt or anger her. Natasha and I had spent eight wonderful months together before she’d gone away. I hadn’t seen her in two years. She’d left and never looked back. I should have done the same. I should have been able to move on. She didn’t want me. That had been made very clear.
There was also the small problem of Elijah Levy, my best friend in the world and Natasha’s big brother. He would kick my ass all over the place if he knew about Natasha and me. Everything about Natasha and I being together was wrong. It was wrong, but I couldn’t seem to forget about her. I had it bad. No matter how many times I tried to block the image of her, all I could see was that long black hair, those killer blue eyes, and that petite, little body of hers that made me hard just thinking about her.
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