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Reverie: Chapter 33



I didn’t navigate shaken women well. I didn’t navigate them at all.

Work always came first. But somehow, over the course of the past few months, Victory had become more important than work.

Thanksgiving with her solidified it.

Yet, over the weekend, my doubts crept back in. She was avoiding me, and I couldn’t figure out why. I didn’t know if I wanted to, if this was the shit I was going to have to go through. Women were difficult. Business, I’d learned. I’d wrestled with it and won, I knew how to handle it.

Victory wasn’t business.

And even in my business, she’d taken what I thought I’d known, put it in a jar, added her freaking pixie dust, and shaken it all up. My team ran better with her. They practically ran for her.

I got to work early Monday.

Bastian called to let me know the head of Levvetor wanted a meeting with us that morning, and of course a board member of the FDA wanted in on it since I’d threatened their dairy trade. Cards fell fast when the strings you pulled had money attached to them.

When I walked through the lobby doors, I was surprised to see Vick. She normally arrived early, but today, she’d shown up at the same time I did—hours before anyone else got there.

“You’re early,” I said to her back when I reached the elevator.

She didn’t turn around. Her long blonde hair fell from a high ponytail, straight down her back to a pink point. I knew better than most that hair felt like silk, moved like liquid, and was easy to wrap around my knuckles before I fisted it.

Today she dressed in a muted gray, but her shoes popped bright orange and matched the band she always wore on her wrist.

“Victory,” I growled out her name, wanting her attention as the elevator made its way down toward us.

Her back slumped like she knew she had to turn.

When she did, I almost took a step back. Her eyes searched mine and ripped through my soul, stealing all the happiness from it. “Are you …” I trailed off, not knowing how to ask the question, not knowing this side of her.

“I’m aware I ignored you this weekend. I’m struggling with some personal things. I—” The ping of the opening elevator doors cut her off. We walked in, and the doors closed on us. She faced the wall and grabbed one of the rails. “I’m good at bliss, Jett. You know this about me.”

“Mm-hmm,” I agreed, waiting for her to continue. When she didn’t, when I realized Vick may not be able to get through the workday, I stepped forward and swiped my FOB. It shut down the lit floor buttons, and the elevator shot up to my penthouse instead. Each of us had a floor to ourselves, one that was our own private haven if we needed it.

“I want so much to be just fun.”

She shoved off the railing and turned toward me. She stalked over and slammed her hand onto the wall close to me. “I earned the fun. I bled for it, agonized over it, worked my ass off to build a place I could have it. All for what? For this?” She motioned at me. “To feel this for you? The one guy who can only give me a ‘maybe’ when I deserve a ‘hell yes’?”

I took her by the elbow and walked her into my living space. She didn’t even look around. Her glare stayed on me, waiting for me to respond. “Nothing is that concrete, Pix.”

“Some relationships are.”

“If you think that—”

“I do.”

“Where’s all this coming from? We had a good time over the holiday,” I countered, trying to bring her down off the ledge of disdain she was on.

“That’s just it. I want holidays like that every single holiday. I want a big family around, people laughing, telling stories, bickering over nothing. I want it all for as long as I can have it.”

“Then come to the holidays at my house,” I said, confused. “You don’t get those at yours? I’m happy to have you come.”

She shook her head slowly. “You don’t get it.”

“Don’t get what?”

“You couldn’t possibly get it, and I’m not sure you ever will.”

“Explain it then.”

“No!” she screamed. Her eyes widened, and she took a step back. “No, Jett. This isn’t something I can explain to you.” All the emotion, all the pain disappeared from her face as she slowly blinked and took a deep breath.

“Where do we go from here then?”

“Back to what you’re good at, Jett.”

“What’s that?”

“Work.” She turned back toward the elevator and her display of yo-yoing emotion pushed me to just concede and follow her. We had a damn long day ahead of us. I’d figure it out with her later. I’d make sure she understood that we had something.

Today, we just had to get through the meeting.

We rode the elevator in silence, and when we got to our floor, Gloria greeted us. “You’re early today too.”

I nodded to her, but she buzzed about her desk, not paying me much attention.

When she saw Victory, she shot forward though.

“Harvey from Levvetor will be at the meeting today. He requested that both of you be there,” she announced.

Her eyes were on Vick like she desperately needed the woman to know something. And Vick responded by freezing. Her whole body turned rigid. “Why me? How does he know I work here?”

Gloria softly responded, “Bastian told him.”

“Great,” Vick grumbled.

“The FDA rep will be there too. Gloria, please make sure we have the room set up. I don’t intend for the meeting to go on long.”

Vick’s phone went off, the ringtone signaled her mother was calling. I wasn’t surprised when she silenced it and pushed past me to get to her desk.

“I’ll have the room ready,” Gloria murmured. “And Jett?”


“Your day is about to become very difficult. Remember, it’s worth it.”

Gloria sometimes got that way with me, giving foreboding advice. At first, I ignored it, but when it became a reality every single time, I started paying close attention. Now, I took her words like the gospel they were.

“What aren’t you telling me?”

“Exactly what I can’t tell you.”

At 1:15 p.m. on the dot, Bastian and Cade Armanelli waltzed in wearing all black suits with two large guys trailing them. Their presence today was purely to intimidate, not negotiate. I saw it in their eyes, in the fact that they didn’t bring a corporate team but a mob team.

I shook my head at Bastian. “Your muscle isn’t necessary here.”

“And yet, I feel better having it just in case.”

“Suit yourself,” I shrugged and waved them into the conference room. I’d asked Bob, Gloria, and Jax to be at the meeting. No one else needed to be present, but Harvey had requested Vick. She waited at the table, stock-still. Her thick gray-speckled dress looked as stiff as she did. The last thing I needed on my mind was an angry woman—especially the one I was sleeping with—during one of the most important meetings of the year.

Mr. Young, the rep from the FDA, was ushered in by Gloria. She let him know he could take a seat wherever he liked.

“Jett Stonewood.” I offered my hand and he took it in his meaty one. His firm handshake didn’t linger or squeeze me too hard. After our research, I knew he was only about ten years older than me. For the type of position he held in the FDA, I was surprised by how young he was.

“Weston Young. Nice to finally meet you. Little unfortunate that it’s under these circumstances.”

“Agreed.” I turned toward the conference table. “Have a seat and as soon as Harvey gets here, we’ll talk.”

“Sure.” As he introduced himself to people around the table, Vick stood up and gave that terrible fake smile that I knew was bullshit. My team followed suit, and then Weston got to the Armanellis. I saw the way his hand trembled as he took Bastian’s.

He knew exactly who was at the table and exactly the risk he took by being here.

After a few moments, laughter could be heard in the hall; voices of both a man and a woman. Levvetor’s main man, Harvey, strutted in, a sparkle in his eye as he announced himself and the woman next to him.

“Everyone,”—his voice boomed, boisterous as ever—“I can’t thank you enough for coming out today. We need this. Levvetor needs this. Right?”

He turned to the tall blonde woman who stood in front of us as if on a stage, hands folded perfectly in front of her, nails painted the same color as her dress, and her amber eyes scanning the room just the way Vick’s did. When they landed on Victory, they hardened.

Like mother, like daughter. Vick’s body jolted with an emotion I’d never seen on her. She glanced at me in dread and then back at her mother. She mouthed, “No,” trying to silently communicate something before the meeting started.

Harvey rambled on though. He saw nothing transpiring. He’d come to put on a show, and he would do it, come hell or high water.

“Mrs. Blakely was wonderful enough to accompany me to the meeting. The FDA has concerns about our product. Isn’t that right?”

Mr. Young stood and introduced himself. Then he went on to say, “We thoroughly test every product that we make available to cancer patients. I’m a part of that team. I’m happy to meet you today and discuss it.”

“It’ll come to a vote within your administration, but I want you to know the side you should be voting for. I think we can do that without Jett discussing dairy and without Bastian here, huh?” He tried to nudge Weston gently into his court.

“I hope so. Right now, I need to see more evidence. We’re working on testing, and I hope your teams are working on alternative ingredients too.”

Harvey nodded vigorously and then turned to Mrs. Blakely again. “I wanted to introduce you to Mrs. Blakely. She and Vick here, who is an employee of Stonewood Enterprises, can provide you with a perfect example of why this drug needs to be an option for patients with leukemia.”

Since the age of eighteen, I’d been privy to major negotiations. I’d been in conference rooms where people screamed at one another, threatened each other’s lives, negotiated billions of dollars, voted down saving thousands of lives. I watched my father never, ever show his true feelings in those meetings. He was the boss. The unwavering, rock-solid foundation of Stonewood Enterprises.

Harvey’s words tested my composure as the new boss. No part of me should have portrayed surprise at his words. Quite frankly, I should have already had the information. But my mind scrambled to catch up, snapping up bits of memory to come to a quick conclusion: Victory’s mom must have had leukemia. It all made sense—her desperation to save the company that saved her mother, her knowledge of Levvetor when Bastian brought it up, avoiding her mother’s calls, unable to cope with their new relationship.

I studied her picking at the corner of one of her nails, head down. Going over to shake her and ask why she never confided in me wasn’t a possibility now. Wasn’t a damn option.

Mrs. Blakely took a breath and her voice cut through the air with precision and purpose. “My family doesn’t go to great lengths to share our story because it doesn’t define us. We’re Blakelys. We define ourselves. When we battle something as terrifying as cancer, we’re humbled. Vick, Harvey wants our family to do a commercial,” she whispered the last statement.

My pixie shot up from her chair, no longer a little bundle of fun. Her eyes bounced around the room, finally resting on her mother. One word bled from her, a world of emotion packed into it. “No.”

Her mother stepped forward, ready to argue. “This is for the company, Vick. It’s for others who’ve gone through the same thing.”

“It’s not fair to ask me to do that.”

Harvey jumped in. “If you can’t …” He hung his head like he understood. The man came in loud and proud but it seemed the Blakelys held a special place in his heart, one he didn’t want to tarnish by capitalizing on their experience.

“She can,” Bastian said from the end of the table. His eyes were dark, his words final. “She will. If the commercial puts this drug in a place where people trust it. We do it.”

Vick turned on him, a wounded animal, fighting for her life. “You know what I went through, and you want to put me through more?”

“I want you to fight for this even if it means bleeding for it,” he countered.

She searched the room, and her eyes fell on me. Unshed tears pooled in them like she knew something was about to change, like we were approaching something she couldn’t turn away from. She blinked once and one tear spilled over as she said, “Okay.”

I understood not wanting her family in the spotlight but people would appreciate that her mother had survived this. They would respect the woman more. There was no downside.

None that I could see.

Harvey pulled out a laptop and explained they’d already actualized a commercial they felt was a great start. Weston asked if this had anything to do with the ingredients, and Harvey put him off by saying this was a better testament to the drug’s effectiveness.

The commercial started.

The first five seconds of the video showed Victory, probably high school aged, with family and friends on her birthday, laughing and enjoying the celebration. The music changed as it faded to black. A long, low note from the piano signified we were about to see Mrs. Blakely stricken with cancer.

When the screen revealed Victory in the hospital, my body convulsed with shock. My blood ran cold, the tips of my fingers tingled. I lost the air in my lungs along with the ability to think. I lost the ability to comprehend.

I was supposed to sit, apathetic, like a damn rock, but a tsunami of confusion, frustration, and some emotion I couldn’t put my finger on barreled through me.

“Get out,” I whispered.

Victory was probably the only one who heard because she stared at me with those same desolate eyes.

My body felt like a damn grenade had gone off inside it. I was supposed to sit there and not react, not feel the shards of emotion puncturing the insides of my soul. She’d never told me. She’d never thought to confide in me, to help me understand her. She’d never wanted me to really know her. She’d worn a mask better than I ever could. She’d painted a picture like Picasso. She’d had me living in a reverie I never, ever wanted.

“Get the fuck out!” The words thundered out of me like a cannon releasing its fury.

Everyone but Vick exchanged confused stares, except for Bastian, who nodded and ushered his crew out. “Let’s give them a minute.”

They filed out just as the commercial ended, leaving us in silence.

I waited. And waited, recognizing the calm before the storm. I knew the eerie silence before a battle must have felt just like this.

Still, I waited.

Her hair cascaded down over her face as she hid from me, looking down at the table.

Her small frame curled in like she finally, finally was afraid of something.

A fear gripped me too. Because I’d been hit with the realization that I loved her and didn’t know a thing about what she’d been through. The fear that I could lose her wasn’t just a trick of jealousy anymore. Cancer. Ugly. Deathly. Too fucking real to ignore. Cancer gobbled up jealousy and presented a truly terrifying opponent, one I wasn’t sure I could control.

“So, Victory Blakely, turns out you’re the Phantom behind the mask and I’ve been the one living in Neverland.”


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