“No.” Violet cocked her head and regarded him. “But I would have thought it mattered to you.”
Violet floundered. Confronting people didn’t come naturally to her. It was a skill she’d worked hard to develop during her years in management positions and when she did speak her mind, it was after careful preparation.
But JT had flustered her tonight and she’d spoken without thought.
“The truth is I really don’t know.”
“But you had a reason to say it,” he persisted, his interest laser-sharp.
Admitting her flaws wasn’t something she did often, but Violet felt she owed JT an explanation after he’d been so kind to her tonight. “I didn’t like growing up the bastard daughter of Ross Fontaine,” she explained. “Being treated as if I didn’t exist by the entire Fontaine family gave me a huge chip on my shoulder.”
“That’s changed now. Henry Fontaine not only welcomed you as his granddaughter, he gave you a hotel to run and a shot at becoming CEO of the family business.”
Violet nodded. “And most days that amazes me. But sometimes I regress to that eleven-year-old girl who was ridiculed by her classmates for bragging that I was Ross Fontaine’s daughter when everyone could tell he wanted nothing to do with me.”
“I can see where that would be hard.”
She had a difficult time believing JT could sympathize with her situation. The sole heir to Stone Properties, he’d grown up knowing who he was and where he belonged. Maybe things hadn’t been perfect with his parents and maybe the company was struggling with his father at the helm, but that could be turned around with the right moves.
“So, you think we’re family,” she said, aiming for a warm smile. She could tell by JT’s expression that she missed the mark.
“I didn’t have a chance to know my uncle,” he explained. “I think I missed a lot. You knew him better than anyone. I feel connected to him through you.”
It took a second for Violet to register that JT was reaching out to her. All of a sudden she felt a little giddy. “Your uncle was my father in all ways but legally.” She sounded a tad breathless as she finished, “I suppose that makes us cousins.”
JT cocked his head and regarded her. “I suppose it does. Good night, Violet.”
He departed Baccarat without touching her again and Violet was dismayed by her disappointment. She could get used to having his hands on her. Was that creepy now that they’d agreed to consider each other cousins?
Violet continued on her rounds, and contemplated what her sisters would make of her conversation with JT. With her traditional upbringing and ambitious professional goals, Harper would give her sensible and conservative advice. Younger than Violet by a few months, Harper was nonetheless the voice of pragmatism. She would encourage Violet to keep her distance from a complicated man in a tricky family situation. Violet’s relationship with Tiberius had made her by extension an enemy of Preston Rhodes, JT’s father. If she and JT became friendly, it would only complicate what she sensed was a strained relationship with his father.
While Harper’s rational arguments would appeal to Violet’s head, Scarlett’s opinion would go to work on her heart. A few weeks ago Scarlet had pointed out that there was more to JT’s nightly appearance at Baccarat than simply that he missed Rick’s mixology expertise. Scarlett would encourage Violet to get to know JT better; she was convinced that something would ignite between them. Shock waves pummeled Violet’s midsection as her thoughts ventured down that path.
Sex with JT would be explosive. Tonight when he’d squeezed her hand, she’d been hard-pressed not to lean over and plant a very uncousinly kiss on his well-shaped lips. Her skin tingled at the thought and she gave her head a vigorous shake. She couldn’t go there. Shouldn’t even think about going there. Trouble was when she was around JT, she had a hard time thinking clearly.
Angst and passion simmered beneath his expensive suits and professional demeanor. During the six years she’d known him she’d occasionally caught glimpses of deep pain, and her instinct had been to offer comfort or help. But JT was a man who stubbornly resisted admitting to any vulnerability or weakness. From Tiberius, Violet knew JT’s childhood hadn’t been ideal. His father was a ruthless businessman who’d manipulated his father-in-law into disowning his only son. His drive for power had caused him to neglect his wife.
JT’s mother had not taken the banishment of her brother well. She’d retreated into alcohol and pills. Tiberius had kept tabs on her through friends, but he’d been unable to do more than stand by and watch her fade away. What Violet had never understood is why she’d never divorced Preston. She might have had a chance at happiness if she had.
Violet finished her rounds and returned to her large executive office. Even though it was three in the morning, she didn’t expect to sleep. Reports awaited her attention.
The hotel’s management offices occupied a small chunk of the third floor. She spent little time here, preferring to be on the floor, eyes on the action taking place in her hotel.
It’s what she’d learned from shadowing Tiberius around the Lucky Heart. Her throat closed as she stared down the Las Vegas strip to where the small hotel and casino sat. Built in the sixties, it lacked the amenities of the modern hotels and casinos: five-star restaurants, extravagant décor and luxury suites. The ceilings were low. The carpet needed replacing. And the clientele came in for the cheap bar drinks and stayed for the loose slots. But for Violet it would always be home.
Which is why she’d been surprised how Tiberius had reacted when Henry Fontaine approached her about coming to work for him. She’d expected Tiberius to discourage her from joining the family business. Quite the opposite. Tiberius knew how hard it had been for her to be Ross Fontaine’s bastard daughter. Unlike Scarlett, Ross’s other illegitimate daughter, Violet had grown up in Las Vegas within the long shadow of the gorgeous hotels and casinos that were owned by the Fontaine dynasty.
The older she got, the more being an outsider frustrated her. Without Tiberius as her champion, constantly making as if she was the smartest, most capable person he’d ever known, she might never have accepted that she didn’t need approval from the Fontaines to make her happy.
Maybe that’s why she sympathized with JT. If his grandfather hadn’t died when JT was ten, Preston would never have taken over Stone Properties and ousted his brother-in-law. The company would have stayed in Stone hands. First Tiberius’s, then JT’s.
Attending his uncle’s memorial service today must have really upset him. She had no other explanation for why he’d shared with her his concerns regarding Stone Properties. They’d known each other for six years and as much as he made her pulse dance, he’d always just treated her like a business acquaintance. Was it any wonder his behavior tonight had thrown her off balance? Did he regret telling her about his worries for his family’s company? It just wasn’t like him to be so...forthcoming.
She smirked as she imagined him kicking himself the entire way back to Titanium.
It was a spectacular property. He’d spent his first two years in Vegas rebuilding the hotel and casino. It was larger than both Fontaine Chic and Richesse combined, with a huge convention facility and an eighteen-hole golf course in the back. Admiring the hotel’s style, she’d used the same design company to bring to life her vision for Fontaine Chic.
What would happen to Stone Properties if JT left? As hurt as Tiberius had been that his father believed Preston’s lies and disinherited him, Tiberius’s biggest concern had always been for the company beneath Preston’s stewardship. He would be worried that JT was quitting.
“Not my problem,” she muttered, but already the wheels were turning in her mind.
Tiberius would have wanted her to help JT. Despite all the years they’d been estranged, right before his death, Tiberius had started