“Is that a yes? You’ll move in with me? Oh, Cassie, I was so afraid you’d say no. You’ll love it here.”
Brad’s elation was palpable, but Cassie’s heart took a nose-dive to her toes. Move in? She’d thought he meant a weekend visit. Now what? She didn’t want to disappoint him.
Brad continued his excited rambling. “Randall would give you my former position, if you wanted it. If not, he’d write you a letter of recommendation that would get you into any firm you wanted.”
She didn’t want a firm. She had her own private practice. She’d chosen that on graduation day. A frown pulled across her brow. But she wanted Brad more. She couldn’t imagine what life might be like if she walked away, knowing he loved her, loving him. “Brad, I…”
“I know it’s fast. Like I said, I don’t know what I’m doing over here. There’s some beautiful condos on the Upper East Side. We’d be close to the office and close to the senior partners.” He paused a heartbeat, then added, “Or you can do what you want with my place. I just want you here.”
And she didn’t want to go. Not permanently.
Tears blurred her vision. Once again, she’d made a fatal mistake—she’d thought Brad understood her. But here she was again, a heartbeat away from agreeing to everything he proposed, when every instinct she possessed objected. If she went to Manhattan, she’d have to start all over again. She would have him, but she hated big cities.
A watercolor picture of what their life would be like took form as he outlined the possibilities in her ear. Brad’s lover, Brad’s confidant, Brad’s possible wife. What about her? Where did Cassie Blaire go if she let him build this dream? She’d be an inclusion, but never a partner, and ten years from now, she wouldn’t be able to identify herself.
“No,” she whispered.
Brad fell into silence. A moment later, confusion registered in his voice. “I thought—”
“I can’t do this. We’re fooling ourselves.” Her voice broke as the bitter truth swept down on her shoulders. She sniffed to keep the tears at bay. “I love you, but you’re breaking my heart already. And you’re right, part time isn’t enough. I need more than that too. I can’t lose myself to have it though. I have to go.” She blinked and hot salty droplets coursed down her cheeks. Closing her eyes, she struggled to hold them in.
“No, Brad.” She shook her head emphatically. “I have to go. Before I can’t. Please understand, it’s better this way. For both of us. I can’t…be what you want me to be.”
“Cassie, hold on a damned minute.”
“Brad, stop. I’ll cave. I can’t do this. I have to go.” Before her breaking heart sent her headlong into another relationship where she was part of something but separated from herself. “I do love you,” she choked out in a whisper. “I always will.”
He barked something she couldn’t make out as she lowered the phone from her ear. Numb, she terminated the call. The phone vibrated instantly in her hand. Her gaze dropped. Brad’s name displayed on the screen. Anguish ripped through her as she powered down the device. If she listened to another word he said, she’d lose her will power. And she’d come too far to tailspin backward now.
Brad hit the bathroom floor on his knees as his stomach turned over. One violent heave sent his earlier dinner into an uncontrollable reappearance. He bowed over the toilet, stripped of strength. His body shook. His skin felt clammy and cold. He’d never experienced total helplessness. Nor had he ever known the kind of pain that erupted behind his ribs. And a good fifteen years had passed since he’d last puked his guts out. Frat days. Too much beer and hard liquor.
Things he could have controlled and chose not to.
He couldn’t stop this, and he’d swear on everything he was, it would tear him in two pieces. Cassie hadn’t just said no. She’d walked away. His stomach churned again, but there was nothing left to spill. Just a gnawing ache. An intolerable emptiness he couldn’t escape.