He felt guilty. He knew it was stupid and both he and his family – meaning the Hales in this instance – had discussed it ad nauseum, to the point where Laura had shoved him out the door to Peter’s apartment, telling him to go to his damn meeting, as his lover smirked in amusement. They wouldn’t fall apart with him gone for a few hours, she’d snarked; then smacked a kiss to his cheek and told him to be careful.
So Stiles was in the back of his car, Boyd at the wheel, winding their way through downtown to Finstock’s office. Hayden would also be there and he made a mental note to hug her. He felt like he’d been abandoning his assistant too much in the past few months – something else to feel guilty about.
It had been 11-and-a-half weeks since Derek was shot on the job. The police officer had spent three days falling in and out of consciousness; eight weeks under the watchful eyes of the best doctors Peter and Laura could find, and the last three-and-a-half at therapy. It was Stiles who had suggested the whole family should go. So while Derek underwent his physical exercises with either one of his relatives beside him at any given point, the three had been to a psychiatrist together, working through a lot of residuals from the loss of their family to this latest near tragedy. They were all even closer now than before. And Stiles as well, by extension.
But still he couldn’t shake this guilt and had no idea where it cropped up from. He felt a reluctance now to leave Peter’s side that he’d never felt before.
“Urgghhh,” he grunted, and Boyd quickly looked into the rearview mirror at his boss.
“Everything ok back there, Stiles?” he queried after the glass and both side mirrors giving him a clear view around them indicated that there was no immediate danger.
Boyd had been relieved, to say the least, when the police had arrested the other shooter involved in the attack on Derek and Isaac, as well as the ring of accomplices and drug dealers. It had meant an ease of the around-the-clock surveillance the police had assigned to the Hales, Stiles and Kira, Derek’s girlfriend. After that brief period, he’d also been able to remove his own extra security team from guarding Derek and the family by extension. Stiles’ moan now seemed more internally focussed than otherwise.
“Is it weird that I don’t feel like doing meetings and press junkets and all the usual promotion crap I have to do for this movie?” Stiles asked, glancing out into the sweltering heat, as the air condition hummed in the car.
“Not weird at all, after all that’s happened. It’s expected that you’d feel apprehensive about leaving them,” Boyd responded as he eased to a stop at the streetlight and glanced in the rear-view at Stiles once more.
Stiles sighed. Was it time to take a break from his career, especially after it was starting to take off in such a big way? Did he want to take a break, and what would that mean?
Norman, the director from this last action film had said this was going to be Stiles’ best performance yet, and the press from the last junket he’d done here in Boston had been practically frantic to interview him after seeing snippets of the film and discussing elements with the crew involved.
Plus, Stiles loved acting. Sure it was a pain in the ass, but he loved the rigors of it; the different roles and acting the shit out of them; and the money helped him bolster his Foundation.
Boyd smirked as he pulled into the front of the building and slid out to open the door. He hadn’t heard Stiles use that word in general frustration in a while.
Stiles rolled his eyes at him, realising he’d been too distracted to notice they had arrived at their destination. He and Boyd had had this discussion already. Stiles didn’t want his bodyguard/chauffer also waiting on him hand and foot. But Boyd did it sometimes simply to annoy him and force a response for him to get out of his own head a bit.
“Thanks,” Stiles said quietly to the dark silent man.
Boyd knew it was for more than simply opening his door and nodded an acknowledgement.
“Where are we going?” Stiles said, trying to keep the annoyance out of his voice. “I thought you said you had exciting news?”
“I do, but just be patient, Stiles. You’ll like this, I promise,” Finstock pleaded with his main and most successful client.
“Fin, I don’t know about this. I just want to hear what you have to say and get home,” Stiles said as Boyd slid into the front seat of the limo and it pulled out of the underground car park.
Finstock had his own driver but Boyd went wherever Stiles did, hence riding shotgun in the front.
Less than 20 minutes later they were pulling up at the huge gates of a massive mansion.
“Where the fuck are we, Fin?”
“Patience, Stiles. My God, you’d think I was taking you to a graveyard to dispose of your body,” his manager grimaced as the gates swung open.
The limo cruised to a stop in front of the mansion and the doors opened revealing a man dressed all in white. And he was gorgeous and the clothes fit him well – complimentarily in fact.
Stiles stepped out of the car and the man smiled. It was slow, sly, sensuous (and Stiles didn’t know where that word came from in his head) and mysterious, like he knew a secret Stiles didn’t. It immediately made Stiles uneasy.
“Max!” Finstock exclaimed and clasped the man’s hand with both of his.
To Stiles it looked like his manager was a second away from bowing and scraping to this man.
“And you are Stiles Stilinski,” the man said, voice a smooth, deep baritone.
Stiles swallowed and politely held out a hand in puzzlement.
“I’m Asher Maximilian, but my friends call me Max,” he said warmly, engulfing Stiles’ offered hand in his own and seeming not to want to let go.
Stiles’ eyebrows climbed as he recognised the name. What the hell was this man pulling? He’d had a conversation with Jordan about this same man just three weeks prior, and at the time neither knew anything much about him other than that he’d pumped a couple million dollars into Stiles’ Foundation out of the blue. Something was going on here!
This man was one of the 20 wealthiest men in the world, according to Forbes. He was seldom photographed, never gave interviews, but had a hand in everything – from real estates, to hotels, golf courses, jets, the automobile industry, clean energy – everything.
Why was he here? What did he want with him? Stiles pondered
“Can I assume you’ve heard of me?” Max asked, and Stiles tugged to get the man to release his hand.
“Of course, you made a donation to my Foundation a while back.”
“I’ve made several donations, Stiles. The last one was simply the largest.” Max smiled, that damned slither of a thing that quirked his lips and which Stiles could honestly say, in the back of his mind, only enhanced the man’s attractiveness.
What Stiles didn’t like was that gleam in Maximilian’s crystal green eyes when he looked at him. There was a familiarity in this man’s voice and something predatory in his eyes, and not the kind like with Peter that got Stiles' blood up in a salacious way and made him want to jump his fiancé’s bones.
This was the kind that caused the hairs on the back of his neck to stand up and his stomach to tighten in anxiety. Could no one else feel it?
Stiles looked over at Boyd and saw his bodyguard frowning. Boyd met his gaze and frowned harder. He’d been in the room when Jordan’s call had come in and Stiles took it on speaker. His bodyguard’s alertness to what was potentially in front of them caused Stiles to relax a fraction. At least Boyd knew he was uncomfortable. It meant he’d never let Stiles out of his sight now.
“Please follow me. And welcome to my home . . . at least one of them,” the man chuckled, a deep thing that Stiles could all but feel the vibrations, and his anxiety returned.
The house was everything that would be expected of such a palatial structure. There were antiques, comfortable and expensive-looking furniture; an eternity pool beyond the glass doors with a fucking, literal bar – with liquor and everything, sat right in the middle of it.
With Peter’s wealth, and even his own, it was a case of enjoyment. They enjoyed their money, rather than put it on show. This, was a showcase. One meant to impress, and it would, if he wasn’t Stiles Stilinski – son of Sheriff John Stilinski and the late Claudia Stilinski.
Material things didn’t woo him – and everything here, from Max’s attitude to the bowing and scraping of the girl that took their drink orders (water only for Stiles) – told him this man was for some reason trying to woo him. Finstock would hear his views about this “secret meeting” later.
Right now, he wanted to know what the hell this man wanted from him so he could get the fuck away from him and his unnerving gaze. Every pass of his eyes made Stiles feel like he was being stripped naked. It was a welcomed feeling from Peter, and only Peter.
He touched the bracelet around his wrist now, fingers moving over it to settle himself, as it had continued to do ever since Peter gave it to him for that first birthday when they were still just fuckbuddies.
“Max came to me about three weeks ago with an idea and we’ve been thrashing it out ever since,” Finstock said quickly, watching the movement of Stiles fingers across his bracelet and maybe wisely realising Stiles was two “Max-eye-gazes” away from just leaving. “Remember that new young writer you were talking about wanting to work with?”
“Deazy? Yeah?” Stiles was skeptical.
“Well, he has a script, and damn Stiles, I think you’ll like it . . .”
“Ok,” Stiles drawled it out, eyes bouncing between Finstock and this man who was still smirking at him and had yet to truly move his own eyes from Stiles’ physique. “What does that have to do with why we’re here? Or the donation?”
Stiles wasn’t yet willing to wrap his head around the fact that this man could have been pouring money into his Foundation, without his knowledge, before.
Max chuckled. “I think what Robert is trying to say, is that Deazy works for me. I’ve entered an arrangement to finance his next three projects, as long as the script is of a certain calibre.”
Stiles goggled at the man. Beyond the fact that he didn’t think he’d ever heard anyone refer to Finstock as Bobby, let alone Robert, it seemed that this man was somehow inserting himself into Stiles’ life. And if Stiles wanted to work with Deazy, it would mean working with this very man . . . And no, just . . . no. Fuck no! even – which in itself was a disappointment because unknown to Finstock, Stiles had been to dinner with Deazy, just before Derek’s shooting and had expressed interest in Deazy’s newest project. For obvious reasons, they’d both agreed to keep it on the down-low until they could meet again to firm up the role Stiles would play, but now . . .
Fuck! Why hadn’t Deazy reached out to him before signing up with this man? Although, if Stiles was honest with himself, and he always tried to be – it wasn’t like there had been much on his mind other than family for the last couple months. They’d even kept his engagement quiet, given everything that had been going on with Derek and then the investigation.
Stiles wanted to rant and rave at this man inserting himself into something he had been so excited about and effectively ruining it.
“Stiles? This is great right?” Finstock asked, smiling his million watt grin as he accepted his tonic water and lime from the girl carrying drinks. He was still firm about his sobriety, something Stiles appreciated and respected, especially in their business.
“I think we should perhaps discuss this first . . . in private, don’t you think, Bobby?”
And Finstock’s face fell. Whenever Stiles called him by his first name it meant he was displeased about something and whatever he was doing he should just stop until they could talk privately. His own damn name was a panic button between the two of them. Finstock held in the sigh and tried to smile after a sip from the glass.
“Ok, that’s fine,” Max broke into the tense moment with his own grin. “I’ve set up a brunch for us. I’d really like to hear more about what kind of projects you’re interested in doing now, Stiles.”
Stiles was ready to tell the man he wasn’t interested in doing anything he was a part of, but beyond his creepiness, Stiles didn’t have any reason not to be civil. Besides Finstock’s eyes were all but bugging out of their sockets with pleading for him to please not make a scene.
So Stiles compromised, but insisted Boyd sit with them.
He noted Max’s quick clench of his teeth at that suggestion before the smooth smile returned.
Stiles allowed Finstock to do most of the talking during the brunch, only chiming in where he absolutely had to, not to appear rude.
Boyd was silent beside his ‘boss’ – though Stiles always insisted against Boyd calling him that. He was still and quiet in a way that allowed all his focus to be on Mr. “my friends call me Max”. Something about the man was setting off Boyd’s radar, even beyond the fact that he clearly made Stiles uncomfortable or the donation which Jordan had investigated and proved to have come from Maximilian.
The man was the movie type of shining blond. Handsome in a way that drew the eyes. He was big, and fit too but not overly muscular, and the way he moved told Boyd he also knew how to handle himself, and well. His wealth was a declaration, and a clear one that he was a man used to getting what he wanted and that perhaps was what set all Boyd’s alarms to ringing at near full volume.
He’d bet his next very lucrative pay check that this man had his sights on Stiles, for some reason and that he obviously thought if he gave Stiles something he wanted, then by inserting himself into the middle of it, he could get closer to the actor. He obviously didn’t know Stiles.
Boyd ears pricked at Max’s next words.
“So, Stiles. I hear congratulations are in order. Word has it you recently got engaged.”
Stiles went stiff, rigid. He eyes flew up to meet those of Asher Maximilian. Bobby Finstock inhaled quickly and nearly choked when a piece of fish slid down his throat. Boyd went on full alert, as one of the wait staff rushed forward to see how they could assist.
With that stupid smile still on his face, Max leaned over and smacked Finstock a few times on his back.
Finstock picked up his glass, sipped and nodded frantically, eyes on Stiles.
“Now where in the world would you have heard that?” Stiles asked and refused to look at Finstock because he’d kill him if he’d leaked this.
“That’s a very good question, Stiles. Actually, Max, Stiles’ engagement is a private matter and has not been made public to anyone he hasn’t directly told himself,” Finstock responded quickly, coughing again to clear his passage.
It was his way of letting Stiles know he hadn’t told anyone. They’d worked together long enough to know that Stiles would dismiss him as his manager instantly if he thought Bobby had compromised his privacy. It was one of Stiles’ biggest deal-breakers.
This time though, the knowledge didn’t allow Stiles to relax even a smidge.
Max laughed then. “Oh, I know how to gain access to things that interest me,” he smiled and sipped his own wine.
At that Stiles pushed back his chair most unceremoniously. “Thank you for the brunch, Mr. Maximilian, but my private life is something no one has a right of access to but me and those closest to me. Have a good day.”
And walked out with Boyd quick on his heels and still silent.
Stiles sat in the limo, fumed, worried, and continued to fiddle with his bracelet. They wouldn’t leave without Finstock – he wasn’t after all unreasonable. But he’d be damned if he’d sit at the same table as that man a moment longer. His skin was still crawling.
When the door opened he expected his manager to get in. What he didn’t expect was the face of Asher Maximilian poking into the back of the vehicle, Boyd standing sentry, almost poised on the tips of his toes and ready for action, just beyond his shoulder.
Stiles hadn’t even heard Boyd get out of the front seat. He’d been too lost in thought.
“Mr. Stilinski . . . Stiles,” Max began, all traces of the earlier smirks and smiles vanquished. “I apologise if I offended you or made you uncomfortable. That was not my intention. I can promise you that the information stays with me and will not be seen or heard by anyone else. This was a most unforeseen and unfortunate end to what was a very good first meeting. I really look forward to working closely with you and your team.”
Unfortunately for Asher Maximilian, Stiles had no intention of reciprocating and at this point, nor of beating around the bush about it any longer.
“Look, Mr. Maximilian . . .”
“Max, please,” the man interrupted with serious and creepily focussed eyes.
“Mr. Maximilian. I acknowledge your interest in working with me, but at this point I can’t say the interest is reciprocated from my end. As you are probably aware, because the whole world is aware and of course you appear to have your own spies, the attack on my family changed a few things for me. I’ve deliberately remained out of the spotlight for anything other than my film for a reason. I intend to make this film my last for a while. Since the attack on my family, I’ve been thinking of taking a break, which means that I will not be taking on any new projects for the foreseeable future. As such, I will have to decline your invitation for a collaboration and bid you a good day.
“Bobby, can we go. I promised lunch with Peter,” he lied blatantly and without apology, letting this man know that his fiancé was the only man who could command his interest.
He watched as a visible chill . . . a frost really, settled into Asher Maximilian’s eyes and the man clenched his teeth and balled his hand into a fist. Boyd was there a second later, pulling the door back and almost inserting his big frame into the very small space left by the man’s bigger physique.
In a flash the anger was gone, replaced by that fucking creepy smile once more.
“I look forward to you changing your mind, Stiles. I’ll be seeing you.” He stepped back.
Finstock clambered into the limo and Boyd smacked the door close, getting into the front, eyes not leaving the billionaire.
Max, in the meanwhile, continued to eye the closed door as if he had X-Ray vision and could spy Stiles through the closed door and heavily tinted glass. His eyes followed the car as it exited his gates.
“What the fuck was that?” Finstock shouted.
“I will not now or ever work with that man.” He was already texting Jordan about returning the $5 million immediately.
“Stiles, let’s not be hasty about this. Look, it was a good meeting up until he made that last remark. Maybe let me smooth things over.”
“Stiles, he could finance the next three movies we make, whenever you’re ready to jump back in front the camera. No looking for scripts and hoping they are what you want. He’s promised you can have a hand in the actual writing process, crafting the story and everything that goes with it. This is an opportunity of a lifetime, Stiles and I’d be crazy not to tell you that.”
“I said no, Bobby. Men like that . . . men like him are accustomed to getting what they want and they don’t care what they have to do to get it. For some reason he wants to work with me and frankly I don’t give a flying fuck cause he creeps me the fuck out, Bobby.
“One moment in a room with him and Peter would lose his fucking mind, and I don’t intend to put myself or my fiancé through that,” he paused and said more softly, “we’ve all been through enough.”
Finstock couldn’t argue with that. Besides, Stiles had just used the panic button twice in one long rant. That was enough to tell him quit while he was ahead, that his actor was not budging. How had this all gone to shit so fast?
He sighed at thought of the millions down the drain.
“Did you mean what you said about taking a break?”
“I think after this set of promotions and the circuits with this one, that yeah. Until Peter and I tie the knot and Derek is fully back on his feet, I want to be able to breathe a little. Besides, I want to enjoy the start of my marriage a bit.”
“Have you set a date?”
“Three months, in the fall.”
“Wow, you are really going for this. I was sure we’d be planning a June wedding next year.”
It at least got a smile out of Stiles. “How much of a cliché do you think I am?”
Finstock raised his brows.
Stiles laughed. “Fuck you!”
They both dissolved into laughter, which helped to ease the tension of what had happened moments before, though Finstock noted his actor’s fingers kept fiddling his bracelet.
Peter wrapped his arms around him and kissed him softly, not moving to pull his clothes back together yet. They were both smiling after the hottest blowjob and a vigorous round of sex in Peter’s office.
Stiles had wanted to feel him, had responded with a desperation that reminded Peter of their very earliest days together. That’s not to say it still wasn’t hot like burning between them, but Stiles’ sheer abandon reminded him of their “just sex” days. He’d had to smother his sounds with his own mouth – just like before.
“Want to tell me what happened this morning?”
Stiles exhaled. “It’s not anything for you to worry about, I promise.”
“Then why are you worried?”
“I’m not . . .” he petered off, because Peter was right. He couldn’t shake this unsettled feeling that the brunch and that man had left him with.
He looked up into Peter’s face. His fiancé raised a brow at him and he caved, pushed himself upright from lying amid the throw they’d dragged to the floor, to sit up and lean against the sofa.
“Do you know who Asher Maximilian is? . . . No, shit, of course you know who he is . . .”
“The multi-billionaire? The one who donated to the Foundation. Yeah, I remember you mentioned him. I know of him, though I’ve never met him.”
“I did.” Stiles stopped, curled their fingers together. “Finstock took me to meet with him at his house . . . sorry ‘one of his houses’.”
“And?” Peter asked frowning.
Stiles exhaled heavily. “There’s a writer that I’ve been wanting to work with. He has a lot of talent; a lot of potential. Anyway, we agreed to begin looking at opportunities to work together. But apparently, Asher Maximilian has entered some arrangement with him for his next three productions – full financing or whatever, and he seems to want me as part of the deal.”
Peter’s eyes narrowed. “Want you, or want to work with you, because those are two different things completely, Stiles.”
“I don’t know, either . . . both. I don’t know. He creeps me out.”
“I’m suspicious of his interest – first that ridiculous donation and he wouldn’t speak to Jordan or Allison when they called his company about it. Now this? Plus he knew about our engagement,” Stiles said, playing with Peter’s fingers.
His fiancé sat upright. “How?” Peter was looking at him in earnest now.
“The way he looked at me, spoke to me, it all felt too . . . comfortable . . . I don’t know how to explain it. I don’t know what he wants, and I don’t think it’s just to work with me.
“I don’t know how he found out about our engagement but I don’t think I care anymore. I asked Ali and Jordan to send the money back. I told him I’d definitely not be working with him and I mean it – professionally and especially not through the charity if that’s his new angle, though he seems to think I’ll change my mind.”
Peter was frowning. He didn’t like this. Stiles was not given to being flighty or easily panicked, especially about his work or his Foundation. The fact that this man had left his lover so on edge, that he flew straight into Peter’s arms like this bothered every single molecule of alpha male in Peter.
The “anonymous donation” weeks ago, followed by this tracking down of someone Stiles was looking to go into business with and the coopting of said business before Stiles could finalise his own plans, bothered Peter more.
Stiles made sure that donations beyond a certain threshold were always flagged by his people. That amount was sure to attract the IRS and any number of government investigative and law enforcement agencies. Both Peter and Jordan were surprised that there wasn’t an immediate query about it . . . Unless Asher Maximilian had the connections necessary to quell any investigations. And men with that kind of money often did.
And that was the final thing that set more of Peter’s alarms off - the fact that the man had more money than anyone Peter even knew of. People with that much money didn’t generally care about consequences, because there were seldom any.
He pulled Stiles into his arms, already settling in his mind to get Braeden on the case. He needed information. He knew less than he liked about the elusive Asher Maximilian.
Max stood on his balcony watching nothing as his brain churned. He was raging inside.
His lawyer had told him an hour ago that the money that had been donated to Stiles’ Foundation was being returned. He shouldn’t be surprised after the disastrous meeting, but it still stung. When he’d heard about the engagement, he’d known he’d run out of time. So he’d finished up the last job and flown straight here to make his move. But Stiles had spurned his interest – both in the Foundation and in his career this morning. It was all too much.
Max was a man who always got what he wanted – and this, this just would not do.
Not at all.