When his toast popped out, she jumped. Then clenching her fists at her sides, she took a deep, determined breath before plucking the two pieces out and tossing them onto a plate.
“So, the sooner I leave, the happier you’ll be?” he said.
“What do you want me to say? What other choice do I have here?” Her tone and gaze were bleak. “You have your world of mergers and wealth. I have mine. Nine years ago I didn’t fully understand such realities. I do now. Last night was great. But it’s over. So, go. You’re free. No strings attached.”
The woman who’d writhed in his arms with total abandon, his Cici with the sparkling eyes, was gone. In her place was a woman with a bad case of bed hair, an ashen complexion and dull, swollen eyes. He’d made her unhappy—again.
Obviously, she was right about their situation, but for some harebrained, illogical reason, this thought didn’t make him happy at all. He hated upsetting her.
“Eat,” she commanded gently. “Then go. For both our sakes. Oh, and lock the door on your way out.”
“So, you’re saying last night was a mistake?”
She was padding toward the bathroom, but at his question, she stopped and turned. “You didn’t look all that happy when I woke up, so for you… I think it was. So, I’m saying don’t ever knock on my door again… Not unless…”
Her warm eyes fixed on his face and held his gaze for a long, intense moment.
“You’re smart. You figure it out.”
He wanted to rush across the room and pull her close. He wanted to crush her to him and never let her go. He wanted to stay and drink coffee and talk to her for hours. Which was ridiculous.
Instead, he swallowed. She was right. They’d had sex. Nothing more. Shrugging, he turned. Then bracing himself, he walked out the door.
But with every purposeful step he took away from her, his feet felt heavier. And so did his heart. He wanted to hear about everything she’d done when she’d been away.
The merger he’d worked so hard on was going up in flames, and all he could think about was Cici’s wounded feelings and his own leaden emotion as he faced his life without her. What the hell was wrong with him?
A front was sweeping in from Texas. The gloomy morning matched Logan’s mood as he stood at the front door of one of Jake’s new houses, talking to Jake’s real estate agent.
Cici. As Logan had driven to New Orleans, he’d kept seeing her in her red robe with her messy hair tumbling about her face in those crazy tufts, with her brilliant blue eyes lit by despair and hope. Even then, she’d seemed utterly beautiful.
And once away from her, his body had reacted viscerally to her absence. With every mile, the lump in his throat had grown and his chest had tightened until his heart had seemed squeezed by a vise. He hated the way they’d parted.
More than anything he’d wanted to turn back and floor the gas pedal. How could it feel so insane to be leaving her, when what was really insane was his tense longing to be with her? Why couldn’t he focus on the merger?
“Thanks for your help,” Logan said aloud, trying to sound normal, as he handed Jake’s real estate broker his card. “So, if you see my brother, you’ll be sure to tell him to call any of these numbers. Mr. Mitchell Butler wants to make sure his daughter’s all right, and we think Jake was the last person with her.”
“Then she’s safe and sound,” the man said reassuringly. “Jake’s the most trustworthy guy in the whole world. But you should know that—you’re his twin.”
“Right.” Logan nodded. Then the door slammed, and Logan found himself standing alone on the porch of one of the newly built houses Jake and his investors were constructing in the Lower Ninth Ward.
With solar panels on the roof as well as an escape hatch in case of another flood, the home was sleek and modern. The first floor topped the required eight feet above sea level by at least a foot or two.
Logan leaned against the railing. He had thirty minutes to get to the emergency meeting Mitchell Butler had called in Hayes’s office, and he didn’t have anything new to give to Mitchell.
Still, Logan took a second or two to study the rest of the half dozen new houses his brother had under construction. Jake had certainly made something of himself. He wasn’t just rich; he was making a difference. Like the house Logan was standing on, all Jake’s houses were modern, affordable, green, and well-designed and well-built, too.
Other than Jake’s project and a few others like it, not nearly enough progress had been made rebuilding neighborhoods like this since the hurricanes. Vast empty fields and broken roads and a few trailers were all that was left of the once vital community that had been flooded when the nearby levee had been breached several years ago.