Don't STAHP Believing - Susi Hawke Page 0,1

favorite perfume. And a cigar. But, I would point out that photographs also make excellent tools to share history, Tonio. Just ask any museum curator."

Smirking, I winked to show I was teasing before heaving a sigh. "I know what you mean though. And believe me, I’ve thought about this from all angles. I'm not just throwing this out there on a momentary whim, I've been mulling this over for nearly a year. Our family estate has our history, yes. But it's only truly special to us, the brothers who grew up there. To your children, this estate will hold their true history. But unlike ours, this one's not tarnished by tragedy. The sad ghosts of the past don't haunt these rooms."

Antonio studied me for a moment, a wistful smile tugging at one corner of his mouth. "Ghosts of the past. Es verdad. And probably why I don't visit more often. Look at me, busting your balls for not coming to see me but once a year, yet I haven't been back to the estate in… mierda, I can't even remember. Surely I've been back since I brought Finn and Jodie the first time, but I can't remember when that would've been." He fell silent for a few seconds, gazing off into the distance as if actually considering my suggestion.

I was just about to speak and tell him I didn’t need an answer today, when Tonio surprised me. "You know what, Saint? Yes. Let's do it. Assuming, of course, that doing so means I will see more of you."

While nodding so fast I nearly got whiplash, I quickly put his mind at ease. "Absolutely. If I move stateside, I’d want to come here to Chicago. That is, if you can handle having me around permanently? I can manage our parents’ estate and continue monitoring their charitable foundation from here just as well as anywhere. But if I do it here, I’d get the bonus of having family around again."

This time it was his turn to look slightly uncomfortable. Shifting in his seat, Antonio scratched under his jaw, then brushed invisible crumbs from his pant legs before glancing my way with a tight smile.

"Speaking of your work… it's my turn to make a proposition. I know you've never been a fan of my organization, which is why I've always appreciated you keeping the seat I gave you on the board."

"Some board," I laughingly interrupted. "Not sure the two of us seated across from each other at a long, beautifully polished table are enough to constitute a board. And now we don’t even do that much thanks to Skype."

"Hey, I brought Finn onto the board last year. Just because he's never attended one of our virtual meetings or been needed to cast a tie-breaker vote doesn't mean anything. He still counts."

Snorting, I held up a hand. "I stand corrected, yet not at the same time, because three people still aren't enough to make up a board. Not a proper one, anyway. And of course he hasn’t been needed as a tie-breaker. Why would he when I usually defer to you? And you honor my few requests, so… yeah. Forgive me, let’s get back to whatever you were saying when I interrupted."

Tonio quirked an elegant brow, tilting his chin just enough to look down on me as if he'd been the one to point out my rude interruption. "As I was saying, I've always appreciated your willingness to be part of STAHP, even when you’ve never approved of our methods. But… what if you were the one calling the shots there and I took charge of our parents' estate and charitable foundation? With both of us equally listed everywhere, trading jobs wouldn't be an issue so long as we were both agreeable."

I sat up all the way, turning my hips on the lounger to set my feet on the ground, mirroring his current position as we faced each other. For this conversation, I would need to look him in the eyes, study his body language, read what he wasn't saying.

"What's going on, Tonio? STAHP isn't just your organization, it's been your life for nearly twenty-five years. Is this about your family? Are you afraid they'll be targeted by your enemies? Forgive me if I'm overstepping, but I only ask because I don't want you to walk away from everything you love if it's something that can be solved by increasing your security."

He chuckled, waving a hand as if security was his last concern. "It's