Nash looked down at the cup, the bourbon separating the coffee with its strength, and thought about how little she'd had in her life to comfort her. And when the opportunity was near, he'd snatched it away. It had been duty, he reminded himself. His honor had been at stake.
He drained the cup and crossed to his desk. He stared to pour more, then set the bottle down. The only thing that had saved him in the past years were his daughters. They'd needed him and he'd had to force himself to focus on their needs, instead of his own.
Until Hayley walked back into his life.
He watched her as she continued to move around the room. When she came to a small butler tucked in the corner, she froze. Nash felt it from across the room, the stillness in her, fragile, as if one touch would make her crumble to dust. His brows drew down as he moved to her. He stopped a few feet away. His gaze snapped to her, then slid to the photo on the butler.
It was a picture of his wedding day.
Hayley drained the rest of the bourbon, still staring. "She looks … lovely."
"On that day she was."
Hayley couldn't look at him. It hurt too much. "You say that as if it was the only time."
He scoffed and went to the desk, sloshing more liquor into the coffee mug. "She's dead. I'd rather not talk about it."
Hayley felt her throat close tight. "You loved her."
He stilled, the mug halfway to his mouth. "Don't ask, Hayley. Please."
The agony in his voice was clear enough. "I never understood."
He twisted to look at her. Her finger grazed the crystal frame. An invisible fist wrapped around his heart, squeezing the life from him. "Understood what?"
"Why you left me without a word and went to her."
"And you think you do now?"
Her nod was so miniscule he almost didn't catch it.
"You loved her," she said again.
The tears in her voice slayed him where he stood. He clenched his fists.
"You loved her and you used me."
"That's not true."
She snapped a look at him, venom in her bright eyes. "Then what is, Nash? I have a right to know after all this time how you could say you loved me and wanted me to give up my dreams for a life with you, then betray me!"
His features went taut with his own misery, and he rubbed his hand over his face.
"I never even got the chance to show you my anger. Do you know how humiliating it was to learn from Michelle I was tossed aside? Everyone knew we'd been together. Everyone." She shuddered with the force of holding back her tears. "You made me look like the campus tramp, good enough to take to bed, but not good enough to marry into the rich and powerful Rayburn family."
"Aw, Hayley, darlin', no, that's not it."
"It is! Your fiancée flashed an engagement ring in my face and in front of my sorority sisters and said I was just white trash and should have known the only thing I could get from you was crumbs." She bit her lip, years of anger and hurt and shame sweeping through her. "I can't do this. I can't stay here anymore." She rushed toward the door.
Panic seized him. "Hayley, no!"
She put up a hand, the other on the knob.
"She was pregnant."
She stopped and spun around, sucking in a great gulp of air. Her gaze searched his. "You bastard! You slept with her!"
* * *
Her devastated expression carved a wound on his soul. Finally he nodded.
"While you were seeing me?"
He held her gaze and she read the truth.
If she could have crumbled even more, she did. Shame sluiced through him like hot oil, burning a hole deep into his heart.
Hayley immediately stormed across the room, stopping inches from him. Then she slapped his cheek. His head whipped to the side with the force, and he worked his jaw for a second before looking at her.
She made to slap him again and he snagged her wrists, wrestling with her until she crumbled in his arms.
She sobbed into his shirtfront, sorrow-filled cries as if her heart were shattering into a million pieces. "I loved you," she moaned, twisting out of his grasp and pounding his chest. "I loved you!"
"I know, honey, I know." He sighed wearily and wanted nothing more than to cradle her in his arms, but knew she wouldn't have it. "That night we argued about our future I thought I'd already lost you to your career. I went home and drank." He held her back enough to look her in the eye. "A little too much. Around midnight, Michelle was on my doorstep and throwing herself into my arms."
She shoved away. "I don't think I want to hear this." He caught her elbow and spun around to face him. "Oh, yes, you will. You wanted to know the truth and you'll listen to all of it. About how I woke up the next morning and she was lying beside me, naked, and I didn't even remember letting her into the apartment. I don't even remember having sex with her."