Shifters of Silver Peak(9)

By: Georgette St. Clair

He stared off into the distance for a moment, then nodded. “It makes sense. We’ll do it. I’ll arrange to have your stuff moved into my house today.”

“Moved into your house?” Valerie said with alarm.

“Yes.” He glanced at her impatiently. “We’re pretending to be mated, so we need to be convincing. We’ll be sharing a bed for the next month, Valerie.”

Chapter Four

Valerie stared up at Morgan’s house, a growing unease swelling inside her. She was doing this. She was actually going to try to pull this deception off, to live a lie in front of Morgan’s family. She’d left behind her small apartment in Juniper, filling up one of Morgan’s pickup trucks with the essentials for the next couple of weeks until Morgan’s family and packmates left.

He lived in a stone-and-timber mansion on the outskirts of Silver Peak. The exterior was hard and imposing. The windows had been coated with weatherproofing film, so from the outside they looked like dark, hooded eyes glaring with disapproval. The balconies had spiky iron railings. The hedges around the house were severely trimmed into geometrical shapes, and thorny.

Morgan’s servants were carrying her suitcases into the house. His family had called to inform him that they would stay at a hotel, in protest of his appalling choice of a mate.

The whole house reminded her of something, she just couldn’t figure out what. “It’s a metaphor,” she said, frowning in thought.

“What?” Morgan said.

She looked at the spiky gates again. “Your heart!” she said. That was what it reminded her of.

He looked at her oddly. “My heart’s doing just fine, thank you.” He headed up the steps to his house.

“I would imagine, since you hardly ever use it,” she said, following him inside. “Speaking of which, I’m adding a condition to our deal.”

“A new condition? No. I’ve already had one of my companies approach your grandparents with an offer, which they accepted. That is what I agreed to,” he said, leading her into the house’s great hall. It had flagstone floors, oil paintings of various ancestors glaring from their gilded frames, and a massive crystal chandelier. There were huge doorways on either side of the hallway leading off to other areas of the house, and at the end of the hallway was a spiral staircase that led to the second floor.

He headed toward the staircase and she trotted behind him, hurrying to keep up.

“Yes, I know, my grandparents just texted me,” she said breathlessly. Damn him and his long legs. “They think it’s a Christmas miracle. Okay, here’s my condition. That painter you were screaming at? He doesn’t get fined. You’re ahead of schedule on the construction of the new spa. It’s not going to kill you to give him a few days. His wife is recovering from a very severe case of pneumonia.”

Morgan paused at the stairway and looked at her stonily. “No. This is a perfect example of why you don’t have a head for business.” He turned away and started walking up the steps.

Valerie let out an unladylike snort of derision as she scrambled up the steps after him. “Please enlighten me, oh wise one.”

“If he can’t fulfill his contracts, he doesn’t deserve to be in business. I don’t give out charity to able-bodied adults. Think about it, Valerie. He’s not a one-man show. He’s got several employees, who could show up and paint if he’s not able to. So the fact that they’re running behind has nothing to do with his sick wife, and everything to do with a man running a sloppy, inefficient business.”

They walked into Morgan’s bedroom. Two maids were in there, putting Valerie’s clothing away for her.

“I’ll do that!” she called out to them. They ignored her and kept unpacking clothing and putting it away in an enormous wooden dresser.

“No, really, let me,” she insisted. The two women glanced at Morgan, who nodded, so they made odd little half bows to Valerie and left the room.

Morgan headed for a door at the far end of his enormous bedroom. The open door revealed an office. Of course. The man who lived for his work.

Valerie ran after him and grabbed him by the arm, and he turned to look at her with an expression of impatience.

“Do you know who Giacomo’s employees are, Morgan?” Valerie said. “No, of course not, because you never get to know the people who work for you. They’re his kids. He has seven children, ranging from age six to twenty-two. Since his wife is sick, his three older kids, who usually work for him, have been caring for the younger kids and visiting their mother in the hospital, and getting as much work done as they can.”

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