Grounded (Up in the Air, #3)(11)

I smiled, silently agreeing. Baby talk was so not the way to not scare me off.

James wrapped a possessive arm tightly around my waist as we left his office. Blake was waiting for us at the elevator. She nodded at James, her face set in its usual severe lines.

“Reassign Johnny,” James told her shortly.

She was visibly nonplussed. “Sir, what did he do?” she asked, even as we filed into the elevator.

I turned my head to study his face. His jaw was clenched, but that told me nothing of what he was thinking.

“He wants Bianca. I saw him checking out her legs when he was supposed to be escorting her safely into the elevator. You don’t need to fire him; he just needs to be moved. He doesn’t get to guard her body.”

I hadn’t particularly liked Johnny, not at all, in fact, but he was being beyond ridiculous. “James—“ I began.

“Don’t,” James interrupted, his tone bland. His words were not. “If you make a case for why you want him close to you, it won’t help him, trust me.”

I stiffened. Of all of the hair-brained, arbitrary, completely unreasonable things I’d ever heard, this had to top it. “I think you are being crazy. This has nothing to do with Johnny—“

“I don’t like the way you say his name. It’s much too familiar, considering how short a time you’ve known each oth—“

“Are you joking?” I burst out.

“I’ll see to it as soon as I am able, sir,” Blake said, not questioning his crazy actions. I didn’t suppose he would tolerate it if she did. But I could certainly question them.

“James, I won’t allow you to be a tyrant. Johnny did nothing wrong. You can’t say he wants me because of how you interpreted a look.”

“This isn’t about my jealousy, Bianca. Or at least, not only about that. This is about your safety, and if he’s too busy ogling your legs to do his job, he’s of no use to me.”

“And this is based off one look?” I asked him, my jaw setting.

“Yes. I have good instincts.”

“I don’t care. You’re not reassigning him after one look. You told me that I had a say in who was hired or fired, or anything else, and I say that he is not being reassigned based on one look.”

His jaw clenched hard, but I saw immediately that I had won. “Fine. You need more proof. I’ll keep him around long enough to get it. Blake, keep me updated on his behavior when I’m not present.”

“Yes, sir,” she said with no expression. I wondered what she thought about his crazy antics, but I sure wasn’t going to ask.

“Where are we going?” I asked him, trying to move on from the silly altercation, trying not to stay upset when he had at least conceded to my wishes.

“It’s called Red. It’s one of my restaurants. It’s just next door. The guys are meeting us there for dinner.”

I smiled when he called them ‘the guys’, because it sounded so familiar and so comfortable, as though Stephan and Javier had been his ‘guys’ forever.

The second we emerged from the elevator and into the massive hotel lobby, we were flanked by my security and Clark.

I shot James an arch look. “Don’t you think this is all a bit excessive?” I asked him.

He squeezed my hip in his hand hard enough to bruise. “Until your father has been found and imprisoned, nothing is too excessive. I can afford it, so indulge me.”

“Hmm,” I said, not sure what to do about his overzealous measures. If I was honest, a part of me liked the protection, liked knowing that my father couldn’t get to me even if he tried his best, but the rest of me knew that four people to guard one insignificant woman was completely ludicrous.


Mr. Magnanimous

Red was as outrageously luxe as I had pictured it would be. James didn’t seem to own a property that wasn’t. Every inch of the place was, of course, red. Every shade of red was represented in splashy print on the walls, deep red hardwood floors, and red crystal chandeliers over every table and lounge area.

The first room of the establishment was a massive bar area with high ceilings and red marble topping every surface. The line that wrapped around the block to get into the place meant that it was obviously in high demand, but you wouldn’t know it by the spacious bar. The patrons were well-dressed and well-behaved. The trendy mixing with the affluent in a tasteful atmosphere.

An earnest, black-haired hostess, that probably spent her days modeling, led us briskly through the bars and to one of the extravagant dining rooms. There were three that I could see.

Huge mixed floral arrangements topped every table. All of the flowers were red, of course.

“It’s very red,” I told James.

He just smiled.

The hostess led us to a table in the very center of the large room. No private dining room for us. James apparently wanted to be seen tonight.

Stephan and Javier were already waiting for us at the table. Stephan greeted me with a long hug, Javier a shorter one.

We sat at the beautifully arranged table, and I watched, impressed, as the security team began to position themselves around the room without a word.

“They’re so choreographed,” I said.

Stephan and Javier were both drinking red wine, and James and I had water.

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