Fletcher tilted his head. “And you would honestly be happy to be someone’s dirty little secret?”
It was clear on her face that no, she wouldn’t be. I knew exactly why she wouldn’t let that be an issue. “You don’t want me, Joy. You want to be the Heir’s consort again. That’s all it is. It was the only reason that you ever wanted me.”
Her eyes flared. “No. I care for you.”
“Then can’t you be happy for him?” asked Sam.
Joy snorted. “Are you really telling me that you would be happy for him if the situation was reversed?”
“Oh there’s no denying that I would want to skin you alive and make a rug out of your flesh, but I’d stay away and let him live his life. I certainly wouldn’t be so pathetic as to hang around him the way you do, trying to lure him back to me.”
“How is it pathetic to remind him of what he’s missing?”
“Don’t you have any pride at all?” Fletcher asked Joy, shaking his head in amazement.
Her eyes alight with hatred, she sneered at him. “Says the one who prances around like a fairy.”
Fletcher seemed more amused than offended. “I’m more of a woman than you’ll ever be.”
Sam chuckled. “He’s got a point, Joy.”
A flush of pure anger crept up her neck and face. “It might not be me that Jared comes to when he finally realises what he really needs, but he will turn away from you at some point. You’d be a fool to doubt that.” Then, in vampire speed, she disappeared.
Fletcher swerved to look at me. “The crank truly believes that, doesn’t she?”
Chuckling again, Sam answered for me. “Of course she does. I know it seems weird, but think about it from her neurotic point of view. Jared didn’t just have her as a consort; he had two others as well. Joy probably wasn’t too happy about it. Then there’s the fact that, even with three consorts, he still bonked other females when the mood struck him. Her mind had two choices: believe that she wasn’t what he needed because she lacked somehow and he didn’t care at all for her, or believe that he was simply someone who needed more than one woman and it didn’t reflect on her whatsoever, that he might even care for her. She convinced herself of the latter, because it suited her to believe that. It made the situation not hurt so much.”
“So seeing him Bound and committed to someone else threatens her illusion,” deduced Fletcher. “If she accepted that you’re all he needs, she’d have to accept that what she’s always believed in the cause of emotional self-preservation is untrue.”
Sam nodded. “And who would want to accept that the person they care about has never cared about them? It would certainly piss me the f**k off.”
It would piss me off, too. I’d want to know what the f**king point was in finding and caring for this person so much if they would never feel the same. To then have that person leave me for someone else and be so happy with them – happy enough to join with them for life – would be the final twist of the knife. Wanting to fend off the dark feelings threatening to surface at just the idea of that, I slipped my arm around Sam to pull her close. Okay, so I could feel a teensy bit sorry for Joy, just as I did for Cristiano. But I still believed that my being Heir was what interested Joy the most.
Fletcher shrugged, as if to shake off the matter. “Well, it’s been a long night. I’m off to find Norm.” He gave Sam a brief hug, offered me a shy wave, and then left us alone.
Sam raised her gaze to mine. “Did the swim help? I know something’s on your mind, but I’m not going to ask what it is. Tell me in your own time…just don’t take too long.”
Appreciating that she wasn’t pushing, I kissed her gently. “We’ll talk about it soon,” I promised. “You know, you’ve impressed me. My holding back is annoying the shit out of you – I can sense it. Usually when I piss you off in some way, you retaliate with that whip of yours. But you’ve contained yourself.”
She placed her hands on my chest. Her smile dripped with pity. “Aw, Jared, whatever made you think I was going to contain myself?” She shoved hard – so hard that I went zooming backwards and landed in the pool.
Kicking to the surface, I coughed up the mouthful of water that had clogged my throat and glowered at my mate. Appearing rather self-satisfied, she folded her arms. I shook my head at her. “You know you’re a bitch, right?”
She smiled. “It’s part of why you love me.”
I had to smile back. She was right, it was.
Just as I had yesterday evening, I fiddled with the sleeves of my white shirt as I stood in my bedroom, scowling at my reflection in the mirror. Just as he had yesterday evening, Fletcher slapped at my hands. “Oi,” I whined.
“Stop fussing before you rip the bloody sleeves at the hem.”
“You stop fussing before I clock you over the head.” If I could help it, I’d never wear a suit again.
Jared entered the bedroom, totally edible in a grey shirt and black trousers. Unsurprisingly, Fletcher gawked in admiration, and I didn’t blame him. The sod could pull off just about any look. I was totally envious.
Jared’s brows rose. “Wow, you look?”
“Don’t,” I bit out.
He sighed. “I was going to?”
“Give me a false compliment because you know I feel awkward,” I finished.
He shot me an impatient stare. “Actually, it wouldn’t have been a false one. You look?”
He threw his hands up in a gesture of exasperation. “Here I am pushing past my difficulty with giving compliments, and you’re shutting me down. You’re never going to learn to accept one, are you?”
“Then why keep doing it?”
He grunted, sliding his arm around my waist and pulling me against him. “You ready?” When I nodded, he added, “I don’t just mean physically.” He gently tapped my temple. “I mean, are you mentally ready for this?”
Having the uncharacteristic need to fidget and keep my hands busy, I adjusted his collar and smoothed my hands over the arms of his shirt. “About as ready as I can be.” But there was a nervous tremor to my voice.
Cupping my chin, he lifted my head so that he could meet my eyes. His own eyes were shining with adoration and reassurance. “You’ll be fine.” He dropped a kiss on my mouth and then went to say more, but stopped at the knock on the door. Fletcher dashed out of the room to answer it, and quickly returned with Evan and Alora.