“Lucian came home as I was packing and tried to talk me out of leaving. He said…he loved me. Can you believe he finally said those words as I was stuffing my clothes into a bag, so angry with him that I couldn’t see straight? I swear I wanted to slug him, which makes me sick. I lived for years with a mother who thought hitting someone was the answer to all of her problems and at that moment, I felt just like her.”

Taking my shoulders in her hands, she shakes me lightly. “Lia, that’s bullshit. I’d have wanted to deck him, too. Hell, I took a shovel to my ex-boyfriend’s tires and I’d have probably taken his kneecaps out as well if he’d been around. That doesn’t make me like your mother, well hopefully, and wanting to slap Lucian for keeping something so important from you, doesn’t make you a bad person either. It makes you human. I’d be worried if you weren’t angry with him.”

Shuddering, I admit, “I don’t like feeling so out of control. I’ve always been proud of the fact that no matter what has gone on in my life, I still managed to stay calm. Showing emotion in my house only made everything worse. My mother thrived on getting a reaction from me. I finally figured out that she moved on faster if I just stayed impassive. Crying and yelling only fueled the fire. Being a boring wimp wasn’t a challenge for her. She didn’t enjoy hitting me if she couldn’t break me.”

When Rose’s hand flies to her mouth, I realize what I’ve just said to her. Of course, she knows about my past, but I’ve tried to downplay what my everyday life was like for eighteen years. She’s not used to hearing me talk about it in such matter-of-fact terms, and I instantly regret doing it. If she starts crying, there is no way I’ll be able to hold it together. I’m too close to the edge. When her eyes squint, I brace myself for sympathy, but instead get, “That old dried-up cunt. If she weren’t already in prison, I’d be on her ass like stink-on-shit. She had better hope she never gets out. If she does, I’m picking her up from jail and taking her to an abandoned building somewhere.”

I stare at Rose for a full minute, almost picturing the scene in my head. I swear I can see her throwing my mother into the trunk of her Prius then straightening her cashmere sweater before getting behind the wheel. She’d look in the rearview mirror to make sure she didn’t have a hair out of place, before adding a coat of pink lip-gloss. I begin laughing and I’m sorely afraid I’ll never stop. When Rose’s laughter mingles with mine, it only gets worse. My ribs are hurting and I can’t catch my breath. This is exactly what I needed—a moment of levity to counter my horrible day. The ringing of the doorbell cuts through the lighthearted moment like a knife. “Don’t answer it,” I say hesitantly, knowing I don’t really mean it. I’m still mad, hurt, and every other emotion in between, but a part of me can’t stay away from him. Nothing could have stopped me from walking out of his apartment earlier, but I fear there is little that will keep us apart. Our bond is too strong. He can no more give me my freedom than I can take it. Be it good or bad, we are bound to each other. I can only hope we both survive intact.

Rose gets to her feet and looks at me. “What’s it gonna be? You know he already knows you’re here, but I’m game for ignoring the doorbell all night if you are. Of course, he’s likely to freak out and knock the door down or call the cops, so you need to factor that into your decision.”

I begin to stand, but Rose waves me off. “I’ve got it. I need to have some fun out of this,” she adds with an evil grin. When she opens the door, I can make out the top of Lucian’s head, but she doesn’t let him across the threshold for at least two minutes. I can’t hear what they’re saying, but it’s a good bet she’s making some threats. Finally, she moves aside and waves him in. I see his eyes searching the open floor plan apartment before landing on me. I see the look of relief cross his face and know he’s been worried. Brushing her hands together, Rose clears her throat loudly before saying, “Well, I think I’ll go call Max and tell him that I’m feeling the need to do something to Jake today. That should be enough to get him going. I love it when that man starts lecturing me.”

Lucian stares after her as she walks off. I know he’s trying once again to reconcile the demure homemaker image she presents with the badass she truly is. He looks back to me and shakes his head. “That girl scares me. This might make me a pussy, but I’m glad she fixated on Max. Unfortunately for Jake, torturing him is her way to get to do it.”

“Well, Jake kind of brought it on himself,” I point out, not really feeling sorry for Rose’s ex. Lucian looks a little uncomfortable at my statement. I guess guys sticking together is universal, even when they aren’t friends.

Instead of commenting though, he walks over to where I’m sitting and lowers himself to the table in front of me. My legs are now between his larger ones and his hands are on my knees. It feels as if he’s trying to make certain I don’t run, which I have no intention of doing. I told him less than two hours ago that I didn’t want him to follow me until he was ready to talk about his past. If he’s here now, then I can only assume that’s what he’s going to do. He rubs a soothing circle on my thigh before saying, “I’m sorry, baby. That should have never happened to you today. I…didn’t know for sure before your attack that Lee was your father. His involvement with your mother was uncovered, but Lee himself didn’t approach me until after you were home from the hospital.”

Tags: Sydney Landon Lucian & Lia Billionaire Romance
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