“I do want to help you,” he snapped. God Almighty, she pushed his limits. Stubborn as a stripped screw. He forced his tone back into the realm of agreeable before he gave away the fact that she’d gotten to him. “You’re mad because it was mutually beneficial? That’s what made the original deal so attractive. We both got value out of it. Why is it so bad to continue the tradition?”
“All lies! Matthew left and now you’re hot for a wife who’ll give you a baby. You’re too lazy to go find one, so you thought, ‘Hey, I already have a wife. I’ll hang on to her.’”
Lazy? She was more work than a roomful of spoiled debutantes and jaded supermodels. Yet there was not one woman he’d want long-term besides Cia. They were compatible on every level, and the thought of living his life without her—well, it wasn’t a picture he liked. Why else would he be talking about it? “I get the feeling anything I say at this point would be wrong.”
“Now you’re onto something. There’s no defense for any of it, least of all compromising the shelter site. If a woman’s abuser finds the shelter, he might kill her. Do you understand how horrible your cavalier attitude is? Do you have any clue how it made me feel when I realized what those men were talking about?”
“I’m sorry. I do understand how important discretion is. It was a mistake. But I stand by my offer to find another site.”
“How magnanimous of you,” she said with a sneer. “I’m not stupid, Wheeler. You got me all excited about it, then oh, no. Bring in the entire upper crust of Dallas, so everyone knows where the shelter is. Oops. You sabotaged that site, hoping to buy time to talk me out of the divorce. Maybe accidentally get pregnant in the meantime.”
Was she listening to anything he had said? He’d apologized twice already. “Compromising the site might have been the result but that was not my inten—”
“Betrayed. That’s how I felt when I stood there listening to my entire world crumble around me.”
Everything with Cia was a hundred times more effort than it needed to be, which he knew good and well she did on purpose to keep everyone at bay. But why was she still doing it with him? Hadn’t they gotten past this point already? “That’s a little melodramatic, don’t you think?”
There came a tear, finally, sliding down her cheek. “Melodramatic? You broke my heart, Lucas!”
“What?” Every organ in his chest ground to a halt, and he couldn’t tear his eyes away from the lone tear laden with despair and hurt.
No. No way. This marriage was about the benefits, both physically and business-wise. She needed his unique contribution to the relationship. Period.
He’d been one hundred percent certain she was on board with that. Hurt and feelings and messiness weren’t part of the deal. And when the deal fell apart, he walked away. Usually.
But he was still here.
She dashed away the teardrop, but several more replaced it. “Surprised me, too.”
All of this was too fast. Too much to process. “Whoa. What are you saying?”
“Same thing I’ve been saying. Since you have to file for the divorce, I have no power here. Therefore, I’m leaving, and I have to trust you’ll eventually find another potential mother for your next generation, at which point I’ll get my divorce. Clear enough for you?”
“No.” He shook his head. “Back up, honey. Now you’re talking in circles. I didn’t make you mad—I hurt you. How did that happen?”
“Because I’m an idiot.” Her eyes shone with more unshed tears. “I had expectations of you that you couldn’t fulfill. You’re not the man I thought you were.”
“Wait a minute. What did you expect?” He was still reeling from the discovery she’d developed feelings for him and hadn’t bothered to say anything.
What would he have done with such information? Run in the other direction? Run faster toward her?
Actually, he didn’t know what to do with it now.
“I expected you to be honest, not hide your real agenda.” She snorted. “Dios, how naive am I? I walked right into it, eyes wide open, certain I could hang on to my soul since you weren’t asking for it. You gave and gave, and I never saw it for what it was. An exchange. You slipped under my guard, and the whole time, you were planning to exact payment. You betrayed me, not once but twice, with alternatives and then with sponsors. You don’t get a third chance to screw me over.”
When thunderclouds gathered across Lucas’s face, Cia was too tired to care that she’d finally cracked his composure.