“What do you want from me, Roman?” Her voice sounded strained to her own ears. If he noticed, he didn’t comment.
“You know what I want. What I came here for.”
She turned to look at him and barely stopped herself from sucking in her breath at the sight of him all dark and moody beside her. After five years, was she still supposed to be this affected by his dark male beauty?
“You’re wasting your time. Sullivan’s isn’t for sale at any price.”
There was silence between them for a long moment. And then he burst into laughter. His voice was rich, deep and sexy, and a curl of heat wound through her at the sound.
“You will sell, Caroline. You will do it because you can’t bear to see it cease to exist. Be stubborn—and watch when your suppliers cut off your line of credit, one by one. Watch as you have to close one store, and then another, and still you cannot fill your orders or keep your stores supplied with goods. Sullivan’s is known for quality, for luxury. Will you cease to order the best and settle for second best? Will you tell your customers they can no longer have the Russian caviar, the finest smoked salmon, the specialty cakes from Josette’s, the designer handbags from Italy or the custom suits in the men’s haberdashery?”
A shiver traveled up her spine, vibrated across her shoulder blades. Her stomach clenched hard. Yes, it was that bad. Yes, she’d been studying the list of her suppliers and wondering how she could cut corners and still keep the quality for which Sullivan’s was known. The specialty food shop was hugely expensive—and yes, she’d thought of downsizing that department, of eliminating it in some markets.
She’d wanted to ask her father. She’d wanted to sit at his feet and ask him what he thought, just as she’d wanted to turn to Jon and ask him for his opinion. But they were unavailable, and she would not choke. She would make the hard choices. For Ryan. She would do it for Ryan.
Family was everything. It was all she had.
“I won’t discuss this with you, Roman,” she said, her voice as hard as she could make it. “You don’t own Sullivan’s yet. If I have anything to say about it, you won’t ever get that chance.”
“This is the thing you fail to understand, solnyshko. You have no say. It is as inevitable as a sunset.”
“Nothing is inevitable. Not while I have my wits. I intend to fight you with everything I have. You will not win.”
His smile was lethally cold. And dangerously attractive if the spike in her temperature was any indication.
“Ah, but I will. This time, Caroline, I get my way.”
Her heart thumped. “And what’s that supposed to mean? Surely you aren’t still brooding over our brief affair. You can’t mean to acquire Sullivan’s simply to get revenge for past slights.”
She said the words as if they were nothing, as if the mere idea were ridiculous, though her pulse skittered wildly in her wrists, her throat.
The corners of his mouth tightened, and her insides squeezed into a tight ball.
“Brooding? Hardly that, my dear. I’ve realized since that night that my…” He paused. “…feelings…were not quite what I thought they were.” His gaze dropped over her body, back up again. “I was enamored with you, this is true. But love? No.”
It should not hurt to hear him say such a thing, but it did. She’d loved him so much, and she’d believed that he had loved her in return.
And now he was telling her he never had. That it was all an illusion. The knowledge hurt far more than she’d have thought possible five years after the fact.
“Then why are you here?” she asked tightly. “Why does Sullivan’s matter to you? You own far more impressive department stores. You don’t need mine.”
His laugh was soft, mocking. “No, I don’t need them.” He leaned toward her suddenly, his eyes gleaming in the light from the traffic. Her stomach clenched in reaction, though she hardly knew what she was reacting to.
“I want them,” he growled. “And I want you.”