The twins were three when Sterling found them in Chicago. He sauntered into their office and took a seat at the conference table like he belonged there.
“Tell me why I shouldn’t arrest you all?” he said, smiling smugly.
“For having a drink?” Nate said, wiggling his coffee cup at him.
“For being thieves,” Sterling said, testy now that he hadn’t gotten the response he’d been looking for.
Whatever anyone would have been said was cut off by Sophie calling loudly, “Connor, don’t!” and Sterling’s scream.
Sterling yanked his hand against his chest, shocked, as he looked down at the little boy that’d bit him. The kid, all big blue eyes and sandy brown hair, grinned up at him like he’d done something marvelous. What really shocked him, though, was Eliot Spencer scooping the kid up and a little girl of the same age with the same blue eyes throwing herself at Spencer’s legs crowing, “Daddy!”
Spencer placed a hand on the girl’s head and scooted them away warily until he’d backed himself against Parker’s chair, who reached around him and pulled the girl onto her lap.
“Sterling,” Nate said and there was something a little dark in the warning tone. Sterling looked at him. “You want to leave now.”
Sterling tensed, disliking the idea of being given orders by a man that had fallen so far as to work with thieves. “Do I now?”
Nate smiled and settled back in his chair. “We’ve had three years to figure out how we’d play it if you came around. Three years to plan, Sterling. Do you really want to go up against us?”
It was galling, the shiver of fear that worked through him. James Sterling was a good man, but he’d done a few bad things that could be exploited by a man of Nate’s…ilk. His eyes slid to the children, the little girl playing with Parker’s hands, the boy in Spencer’s arms playing with the beads in his hair, and he stood.
“I know when I’m beat,” he said, trying to bow out gracefully. He looked at Nate, so confident, so comfortable again. He was surrounded by family and the shadow of Sam wasn’t hanging over him anymore. “Take care of them this time.”
Nate lifted his glass in agreement. Sterling nodded to them and turned to see a dark haired, blue eyed girl leaning against Sophie Devereaux’s legs and froze. If he didn’t know better, he’d say those were Nate’s eyes.
“Ria,” Nate said from behind him. “Say goodbye to Mr. Sterling. We won’t be seeing him again.”
The little girl’s head cocked and she stared at him for a moment, unblinking, before saying, monotone, “Goodbye, Mr. Sterling.”
Sterling left. He wouldn’t be back.