"Penny, you need to find someone who brings out the wild side you try so hard to repress."
I stared at my younger brother, Adrian, as if he'd lost his mind.
"Don't look at me like that. I'm serious. You're twenty-seven and live like you're an eighty-year-old spinster."
"Yes, you're right. I'll get right onto dancing on tables between working sixty-hour weeks and keeping Mommy Dearest away from us."
No matter how much I wanted it, there was no way I could afford to let loose. Especially if I wanted to continue to make sure Adrian's future was protected. My passions, desires, and true nature would remain locked down behind the walls of the all-business Persephone Kipos. Any deviation from the uptight girl I projected could lead to my stepmother ousting me from the company I was so desperate to save.
"Penny, I give two shits about the company or what Mom thinks. Besides, in less than two months I will own my shares outright. Then you and I together will own a majority of the shares and the woman who gave birth to me can go back to banging the pool boy."
I bit the inside of my mouth trying to hold in my thoughts on the situation of his inheritance. If Dara Trevor Kipos had any say, she would never relinquish control of the shares or the company. If my suspicions were right, her acquiring the percentage she currently owned was due to nefarious circumstances anyways.
I'd known as a seven-year-old that my stepmother only cared about Papa's money and status. She'd preyed on my father, Jacob Kipos, a lonely widower, and somehow convinced him I needed a mother. When in reality, the last thing she ever wanted to do was be a mother to me or the baby she'd conceived to force Papa's hand into marriage.
It had taken another five years before Papa had seen through Dara's manipulation and filed for divorce. Not three days later, a drunk driver had run him off the road, killing him the moment his car hit a tree.
Which in turn left Dara in charge of two minors and a billion-dollar horticulture import-export business.
Convenient how things worked out in her favor.
I knew without a doubt that she was involved in Papa's death, but I couldn't prove it. And until Adrian owned his shares outright, I'd hold off on pursuing my suspicions and play the dutiful, yet weak, Kipos heiress.
"I'll make a deal with you. The second you turn twenty-one, I will kick up my heels and party like it's 1999."
He rolled his eyes. "I'll be fifty before you do anything that would go against Mom's rules. Did you forget I know in detail what you spend your free time doing? By the way, have you decided on whether you’re going wide or keeping it limited?"
My eyes nearly bugged out of their sockets as I scanned the room, making sure one of Dara's spies disguised as cleaning staff wasn't around. Besides Adrian and a few trusted people, no one knew anything about what I did outside of Kipos International.
The house Papa had bought for my mom was no longer the safe haven it had been before Dara entered the picture. Yes, I owned half of it, but because Adrian had inherited the other half, Dara had access.
And she'd placed many spies in the house masquerading as staff. Adrian and I had learned early on in life to keep all conversations about our personal business outside of any property Dara could freely enter.
It was through a listening device that she’d discovered the name of the boy I’d had a crush on as a teen. She’d used the information to embarrass me in front of his family and then told me I would never attract a boy like him. It wasn’t until a few weeks after the incident that I discovered the bug while cleaning my room. After that day, I made sure never to have any conversations in the house that I wasn’t okay with Dara hearing.
Even the condo Kipos had given me as part of my executive package was only used to sleep in. All of my personal and business files and property were kept safe at a warehouse I rented near my cousin Henna's house.
"Watch what you say in here. I don't want any backlash coming in your direction. Dara probably has this place bugged again."
"Oh, she does."
"What?" I shouted.
Fuck. If Dara got any inclination I had interests outside of Kipos International, she'd go out of her way to destroy them.
"Don't worry. I took care of any issues. The few things I found are now safe in the pool house with a recording of the activities of her most recent boy toy."
"You nearly gave me a heart attack." I dropped my head to the back of the couch and released a relieved breath.
"Your private activities are safe." A grin touched his lips, and he picked up the soda sitting on the coffee table next to his party-sized tray of chicken nuggets. "No one will ever find out you’re a closeted freak who'd rather make love to her elderflower concoctions than a real man."
"Great, now you're a comedian."
"Penny. I'm not an idiot." His voice grew irritated. "I'm smarter than you believe. Everything’s under control. No one can enter this room, moreover this property, without me knowing or having any listening device scrambled."
"How the hell would you know…" I trailed off and then said, "What the fuck are you mixed up in?"
"Do you know you only cuss when you're worried?"
"Adrian," I warned.
"You're the one who made me do those coding classes as a kid."
"Don't make me kill you." I clenched my jaw.
That was when it hit me. How else would he have been able to get me the financials of various companies for some of my proposals? I hadn't questioned him initially, but as of late I'd wondered how an almost-twenty-one-year-old was able to get confidential information on companies that was only privy to a company's inner circle.
"You're a hacker. Oh my God, I knew having tech mogul Cristo David's son as a roommate was too good to be true." I folded my arms across my body and glared at my too-smart-for-his-own-good brother.
"Oh, shit, your foot is doing that tap, tap, tap thing. It's not as bad as you think." He raised his hands in surrender. "I swear there’s nothing to worry about. Nearly everything I've ever done has been on the up-and-up."
"Adrian, do not get mixed up in anything that will get you in trouble. I have enough crap on my shoulders to add the possibility of you getting arrested to it."
"Too late." He popped a chicken nugget into his mouth. "College is a place to make new friends and acquaintances. Some will help me succeed by opening the right doors and others will give me the tools to run Kipos International until I find someone to do the job for me."
"And hacking’s part of it? I will not have your future destroyed. Do you hear me?"
"It isn't private if the information is located on unsecured servers."
"I swear to God. You could drive a person to drink." I inhaled deeply a few times in hopes of letting it calm me enough not to strangle my baby brother. "Who are you involved with?"
He responded by picking up another nugget from the table in front of us and taking a bite of the breaded white meat.
I gave him the glare that used to make him hide when we were younger.
He held my gaze in challenge. Then after a few seconds, he sighed and looked away. "You have that death stare mastered."
I continued my irritated stance. Dara may not care what happened to Adrian, but I would do everything in my power to make sure he succeeded. He was all I had left. I would walk straight into the fires of hell to protect him.
"If you have to know, it's with the Lykaios brothers."
My heart stopped, and a wave of uneasiness settled on my shoulders.
"You've got to be kidding me. Do you have any idea what will happen if Dara finds out?" I stood and began to pace. "There has to be a way to get you out of whatever deal you made with them."
"It's not like they’re mafia. Hagen, Pierce, and Zack probably know more about running a billion-dollar company than anyone else we know. Hell, each of them are masters in their fields. You'd be amazed at how much I've learned in the past year. They don't hold any punches when it comes to telling me where I fucked up, but they give me credit when I bring something new to the table."
"Past year?" My voice grew high pitched as I pinched the bridge of my nose. "Why am I finding out about this now?"
"Because I knew you'd react this way. No matter what Mom wants to think, they are legit businessmen who made a success of their lives. You're the one who told me not to take everything at face value."
I knew better than anyone the Lykaios brothers were very different than the image they projected to the world. Hell, I'd grown up with them.
Rhea Lykaios had been my mother, Karina's, best friend. They were both heiresses from Patras, a large Greek city built at the foothills of Mount Panachaikon, overlooking the Gulf of Patras. My mother was the daughter of an Indian shipping magnate who moved to Greece from India. And Rhea was the daughter of an international spice distributor. The two women had met during a school field trip and become fast friends. One of those ride-or-die things, as my mama used to say.
They'd both ended up marrying Greek businessmen who moved to Vegas. Nearly every holiday I could remember before Mama died was celebrated with the Lykaioses. I'd even for a short time believed the Lykaios boys were my brothers.
No, that wasn't true.
Pierce and Zack were like my brothers, being only a few years older than me, and in a sense still were. But Hagen. He was another story. The oldest brother was the boy every mom knew would be bad for their daughter. He'd been the rebel, constantly in trouble and unapologetic. He'd fascinated me—especially those intense, mesmerizing eyes of his. It was as if he could see down to the depths of my soul.
He was the only man who'd ever made me want things the prim and proper Persephone Kipos should never reach toward. Good thing I'd outgrown it.
Now he fascinated me even more. He was truly the dark, dangerous man any sane woman was supposed to keep a safe distance from but couldn't resist. He ran the majority of Vegas nightlife, from top restaurants and dance clubs to shows. Though there were rumors he was also involved in the underworld of Vegas. But deep down I knew he wasn't what everyone believed him to be.
The experiences of my childhood had disappeared once Dara came into the picture. Any visits went from running around our houses, playing games, and getting into mischief to formal events wrapped in etiquette and order. Dara had kept up the "old traditions" as she liked to call them, for a few years, but something had happened around the time I turned eleven, causing a massive fight between Rhea and Dara. All I could remember was the anger on Dara's face and the directive that we were no longer going to associate with any Lykaios.
"Penny, are you listening? They’re pretty decent guys despite the rumors."
"I know this. I grew up with them. I'm just afraid of what Dara will do if she knows you work for them. I don't need my Kipos inheritance. My mom left me enough money to fund a lifetime of frivolous spending. It's you I worry about."
"Well, stop. I'll make it without it."
The fierceness with which he spoke had me closing my mouth.
Adrian paused for a moment as if he was trying to gather his thoughts, and then said, "The company isn't my dream. It never was. And I know it isn't yours either."
I wanted to argue, but I wouldn't lie to him. There were other things I wanted to do with my life, was doing with my life, and they had nothing to do with the legacy of Kipos International. A pang of guilt hit me for even having those thoughts. The company was all that we had left of Papa.
"I know what you’re thinking, and you need to let it go. Papa wouldn't want us to hold on to something that made us miserable."
"So, what are you saying? I won't let Dara win. She's taken so much from our family."
"I have a plan for us once I have those shares." A wicked smile touched Adrian's lips. "And working for the Lykaios brothers is a way to achieve it. All I ask is that you trust me."
I stared at my gorgeous brother with his piercing sky-blue eyes, model good looks, and a soul so much older than a twenty-year-old should have. He wouldn't work with Pierce, Zack, and especially Hagen without weighing the consequences or analyzing the situation from every angle. It wouldn't surprise me if he took the skills he learned and created an empire more prominent than what his mentors owned.
Adrian stood and came to sit beside me on the couch, pushing my feet down and then laying his head in my lap as he'd done since he was a toddler. Without thought, I began to play with his hair.
"Will you trust me, Penny? For once let me take on some of the burden."
I loved this boy…man…so much. He was so much like Papa.
Tears burned the backs of my eyes.
No matter how much I wanted to, I couldn't shield him in a protective cocoon.
Releasing a sigh, I said, "I trust you. You're the only one I have ever trusted."
"Good." He sat up, reached into his back pocket, and pulled out a card, handing it to me. "I knew you'd see reason. Be there at eleven thirty tomorrow."
I glanced at the card and felt my heart skip a beat. It was the address for Hagen's new restaurant. The one that would open next week and was reported as the most indulgent and opulent of any restaurant-lounge in Vegas.
"Why am I meeting with Hagen?"
"Because he has agreed to help you get the answers to the questions you’re too afraid to pursue. While I work my side, you find out the truth about Papa."