Excerpt from THE FEARLESS KING by Katee Robert posted with permission from Forever Romance.
Frank Evans kept one eye on the monitors as he went over the financial reports a third time. He’d purchased Cocoa’s with the sole goal of getting access to Houston’s elite who frequented the club, and several months in, it had already paid for itself several times over. Deals were made and broken within these walls. Now Frank didn’t need an extensive network of people reporting information to him—he just needed the VIP section of Cocoa’s.
It didn’t hurt that the club made money hand over fist, either.
A stir on the cameras had him leaning closer with narrowed eyes. He knew who it was the second she strode into the VIP section simply by the way the men’s body language shifted. They turned to Journey King like flowers seeking the sun. Even the women weren’t immune, though most of their attention wasn’t sexual in nature.
Frank could hardly blame them. He’d spent far too much time watching Journey since they met. She presented a puzzle box he couldn’t unlock. The woman had more personas than he’d ever seen, and even with his substantial resources, he couldn’t nail down which was the real woman and which was pretend. Party girl. COO of Kingdom Corp. Loyal daughter. Shunned almost royalty. Friend.
It didn’t help that she was gorgeous and confident and showed every evidence of being a decent person despite having a harpy for a mother and working for company he disliked on principle. Her mother trying to have Frank’s best friend murdered should have cooled his interest.
He studied her as she cut around the dance floor and made a beeline for the velvet rope dividing the VIP section from the rest of the club. It created the effect of putting the rich and powerful on display for those drawn to that sort of thing, which should have been enough to dissuade said rich and powerful from showing up, but people with money were never logical when it came to soaking up attention from what they considered the rabble. Frank banked on it.
Even obviously distracted, Journey moved with the confidence of a woman who’d never once questioned her role in the world. And why should she? The King family was a staple in Houston since Journey’s great-grandfather settled there and invested in the oil business. Though many of the families who’d done the same thing had fallen off in the intervening years, the King fortune and influence only grew.
Even splitting the family down the middle thirty years ago hadn’t been enough to lessen that influence.
He expected Journey to take up residence on her favorite spot—the oversized throne that could have easily fit five people—but she strode to the small bar available only to the VIPs. She held up two fingers, and the bartender obediently lined up two shot glasses and filled them to the brim with top-shelf whiskey.
What the fuck?
Journey drank—all the Kings seemed to—but in the time he’d been watching her, moving just out of her sphere, Frank had never seen her drink destructively. She was now.
He should just leave her to it.
It wasn’t his business.
He had a small empire to run and bigger fish to fry than Journey King. If she was in the middle of some kind of crisis, it sure as fuck wasn’t Frank’s problem.
He watched her down both shots in quick succession and hold up her fingers for two more. She’s running from something. Why she’d chosen to run to his club and make it his business was beyond him, but he couldn’t sit there and allow it to happen. Not on his watch. Three guys had moved to the bar just down from Journey’s stool, and he didn’t like the way they eyed her. Predators scenting weakness. “Goddamn it.” It wasn’t his business. He had people depending on him that actually needed and wanted his help. Journey King could take care of herself.
The trio of men had shifted closer, two on the left side of Journey and one on the right. She made all appearances of continuing to ignore them, but the tense line of her shoulders and the way she kept her gaze pinned on the bartender spoke volumes. He watched a few seconds more, gripping his pen tightly as the nearest man leaned over and spoke directly into her ear. Here’s where you tell him to fuck off.
But she didn’t.
Her shoulders bunched and she shifted slightly away from him—which put her up against the other two. Instead of coming back swinging like he’d seen in the past when someone stepped out of line, she shrank in on herself.
Something’s seriously wrong.
Frank picked up his phone. “Dylan, I need you to send someone to collect Journey King and bring her to my office. Be subtle if you can, but get her the fuck out of there now.” He hung up without waiting for a response. Dylan had been with his company, Evans, Inc, for years, and right now he served as the manager for Cocoa’s while they cemented the changeover. He was a jack-of-all-trades, but over the last month, he’d done an excellent job of managing the club, so Frank intended to keep him in that position for the time being.
On the screen, a woman approached Journey, inserting herself between her and the pair of men at her elbow. Smart of Dylan to send her instead of a man.
Journey shifted and seemed to shrug off her fear for a few seconds. She pinned the camera with a smirk, a single eyebrow lifted, every line of her body conveying belligerence instead of the fear of expecting to be kicked at any moment. She flipped the camera the finger but didn’t make a scene otherwise as she followed the woman out of the VIP section and toward the stairs that would lead up to his office.
Frank turned to face the door and braced himself. The few seconds of preparation didn’t make a damn bit of difference when Journey marched in like she owned the place and flung herself into the chair across from his desk. The security cameras hadn’t done her justice. They never did. Her little sister was the model, but Journey had the cutting kind of beauty that would have made a killing on the runway. Her long blond hair, big hazel eyes, and strong brows drew him in despite himself. After half a dozen business meetings, he should have been immune to her beauty. It was only a gift of genetics, after all.
“You summoned me?” She arched one dark eyebrow, though the earlier flash of attitude didn’t quite hold. Something lurked in her eyes, in the tense way she held herself as if prepared to flee at a harsh word. Once again, he couldn’t shake the feeling she was running from something.
Frank propped his elbows on his desk and studied her. She’d always been lean, but she’d lost weight in the months since he saw her last, and dark smudges beneath her eyes hinted at sleepless nights or stress—probably both. This will require careful handling. “I’m calling a cab and sending your ass home before you embarrass yourself and your family.” He gave his voice a bit of a lash, needing her to fight back, to regain her equilibrium. To get back to being the woman he’d come to expect.
Journey’s mouth dropped open, which only prompted him to notice she’d painted her lips a bright pink. Yeah, ’cause I definitely didn’t notice before now. She shoved her hair back. “You’re out of your damn mind. You don’t give a fuck about my family. Why should my embarrassing myself and them matter?”
“Because my best friend is your cousin and, like it or not, what you do reflects back on him.” It wasn’t, strictly speaking, the truth, but Frank wasn’t all that interested in the truth. He was interested in getting Journey King the fuck out of his club before he did something unforgivable like involve himself in her problems. He knew better. Picking up strays might be a weakness he had, but he’d turned it into a strength and built an empire as a result.
Journey wasn’t a stray. She was a fucking King.
She sat back, putting herself on display whether she meant to or not. Her dress was perfectly professional—hitting a reasonable two inches above her knees and with just enough give to the fit that it showed off her body without being actively provocative—but that didn’t stop his gaze from catching on the slope of her small breasts, the curve of her waist, the long lines of her bare legs.
“I’ll leave, Frank. No problem.” She grinned, though it didn’t reach her hazel eyes. “If you give me the building I’ve spent the last six months trying to buy from your contrary ass.”
He stared. Of all the reactions he’d expected of her, tossing their thwarted business deal in his face wasn’t one of them. He’d never had any intention of selling that damn building to Kingdom Corp, and Journey had to know it. “No.”
She shrugged a single shoulder, her smile falling away. “Then I guess you’re not getting me out of your club without causing a scene. The media loves to hate me, you know. I make excellent headlines. How much profit do you think you’ll lose if it comes out that you blacklisted Lydia King’s daughter?”
“Slow your roll, Duchess.”
She straightened, eyes flashing. “For the last goddamn time—do not call me that.”
Frank was supposed to be above petty bullshit. He’d worked damn hard to elevate himself over the mistakes his parents had made and the consequences those same mistakes generated. If he wanted to take someone down, then he took them down piece by piece. Methodically. Ensuring that, when he walked away, they wouldn’t have the energy or the willpower to hold a knife to his back. All being petty did was create unnecessary enemies.
He didn’t need help in that department. Frank made enemies simply by being what he was—a powerful black man moving among Houston’s elite.
He couldn’t seem to resist needling this woman, though. He raked his gaze over her, forcing his expression to be impassive. “You can’t bring up the media without mentioning the nickname they coined for you. They still use it. Might as well get used to it. You were the one who tried to marry into royalty.”
Her pink lips thinned. “You are such a dick.”
No point in denying it—it was the truth, after all. He reached for his phone. “I’m calling you a cab and you’re going to get your ass into it, even if it takes me hauling you over my shoulder to make it happen.”
She narrowed her eyes. “You’d like that, wouldn’t you?” Journey pushed out of her chair and took two large steps to put herself right up against the desk. She planted her hands on the dark wood and leaned over, looking down her nose at him. “Get off your fucking power trip, Frank. You’re nothing. You’re less than nothing.”
He sat back in his chair. Journey might be impulsive and speak before thinking when she was in social situations, but she was a damn professional the rest of the time. She wasn’t like so many of the others of her kind. No matter what she thought of him, she wouldn’t give it voice under normal circumstances. Trying to ice Frank out would only result in Kingdom Corp suffering the consequences when he blocked any future real estate deals they sought. She knew that, and if there was one god Journey King worshipped, it was Kingdom Corp. She’d never let something as mundane as personal opinion negatively affect her company.
He stood, using his size to push her back.
Except she didn’t back up. She glared at him from the other side of the desk as if whatever had crawled up her ass was his fault. He braced his hands a bare inch from hers, leaning down to get right in her face. “Watch your tone, Duchess. The rest of the world might line up to blow smoke up your ass, but I don’t play that game. Words and actions have consequences. You want to play in the big leagues? You better damn well act like it.”
[new-release title=”The Fearless King” author=”Katee Robert”]
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