Then he went looking for her.
The little ball in the center of the mattress was quiet, so he eased onto the edge of the bed. “I didn’t know they were going to make such a big deal out of it.”
He tried again. “Talk to me, honey. Scream at me. I don’t care, as long as you don’t keep up this deep freeze. This is all a big misunderstanding. I can fix it.”
“Fix it?” The lethal whip of her tone sank into his skull, which was already sloshy with alcohol and the beginnings of a headache. She sat up, and the light from the bedside lamp cast half of her scrubbed face in shadow. “You’ve done enough fixing for today, Machiavelli. I’m tired. Go away and sleep somewhere else.”
“Ouch. I’m in that much trouble?” He grinned, and she didn’t return it. So, jokes weren’t the way to go. Noted. “Come on, darlin’. I messed up. I shouldn’t have taken people to the site. I’ll find another hotel for your shelter if that site’s compromised. It’s not worth getting so upset over.”
“Do I seem upset?” She stared at him, and her dry eyes bothered him more than the silent treatment. Unease snaked through his gut.
“No.” He’d wandered into the middle of uncharted territory full of quicksand. This had all the trappings of their first official fight as a couple. Except they weren’t really a couple—yet—and, technically, they argued all the time. “Does that mean you’ve already forgiven me?”
She palmed her forehead and squeezed. “You really don’t get any of this, do you?”
“Yeah, I get it.” Somehow, his plan to come up with the operating expenses for the shelter hadn’t happened as envisioned. “You’re ticked because I tried to tap sponsors for the shelter site, and now the location is compromised. I’m in real estate, darlin’. I’ll find another one. A better one.”
“I’m sure you will. Eventually.” She lay back down and covered her head with an arm, blocking his view of her face. His firecracker’s fuse was noticeably fizzled. How could they get past this if she wouldn’t yell at him?
“Cia.” He waited until she peeked out from below the crook of her elbow. “I should have talked to you before talking to the money. I’m sorry. Let’s kiss and make up now, okay?”
“No. No more kissing. This isn’t only about the shelter.” Her voice was steady, a monotone with no hint of the fire or passion she normally directed at him. “It’s about you running the show. You say I have a choice, but only if it’s a choice you agree with. I’m not doing this anymore. In the morning, I’m moving back into my condo.”
“What? You can’t.” This situation was unraveling faster than he could put it back together. But whatever happened, he couldn’t let her leave. He wiped damp palms on the comforter and went with reason. “We have a deal. Six months.”
The arm came off her face, and bitter laughter cut through the quiet bedroom. “A deal, Wheeler? We have a deal? Oh, that’s rich. We have a deal when it’s convenient for you to remember it. Every other waking moment, you’re trying to alter the deal. Presenting alternatives. Trying to give me money. Talking about babies with your mother and seducing me into believing you really understand me. It’s all about the deal, isn’t it? As long as it’s the best deal for you. What about what I want?”
He swore. Some of her points could be considered valid when viewed from a slightly different perspective. But her perspective was wrong—the tweaks to the deal were good for everyone. “What do you want?”
“A divorce! The same thing I’ve wanted since day one. I fail to understand how or when that fact became confusing to you.”
“It’s not confusing.” He refused to lose control of the conversation. She needed him, and his job was to help her realize it. “I know that’s what you think you want. But it’s not.”
“Oh, well, everything is so clear now. Are you aware of the fact that you talk in circles most of the time? Or is it deliberate, to bewilder your opponent into giving up?”
“Here’s some straight talk for you. We’re good together. We have fun, and I like being with you. You’re fascinating, compelling, inspiring and all of that is out of bed. In bed...” He whistled. “Amazing. Beyond compare. I’ve told you this. No circles then. No circles now. Why can’t you see a divorce is not what you need?”
“Do you hear yourself?” she asked so softly he strained to pick up the words. “Your whole argument was about why a divorce is not what you need. My needs are foreign to you. And you’ve spent the last few months fooling me into believing the opposite, with the dresses and taking care of me and pretending you were interested in the shelter because you wanted to help me.”