Her heart ached for him—the honorable man being accused. “I am not going to use the story,” she said.
He continued as if she hadn’t spoken. “Or maybe you need a little more blood and guts to really impact the reader?” He hiked a brow loaded with bitterness. “Like how devastating it was to be used by a woman I loved. How humiliating it was to be accused of putting the case I’d bled for at risk. The FBI was more than just a job. It was my life.” He turned and headed for the bank of elevators.
Carly followed him. “I told you, I’m not printing a word.”
Clearly unmoved by her words, he glanced down at her as he kept walking. “You forget I know how badly you want to prove to your father you’ve earned your stripes back.” Reaching the elevators, he stepped inside one, turning to hold the doors open with his hands—blocking her entry. “So try this on for size, Carly,” he said, looming over her. “You are a remarkable woman, but you should be less concerned about your father’s opinion of you and more about your own. You can’t earn your dad’s respect until you grow up, act like an adult and develop a little respect for yourself.” His gaze was relentless. “And that includes refraining from hopping from one loser’s bed to the next.”
Her hand connected with his cheek with a loud slap, but the sting in her palm was nothing compared to the pain in her heart. The words had landed too close to home. The last sliver of hope shriveled and died, and her words rasped out, heavy with a furious sarcasm. “As opposed to someone like you,” she said, holding his gaze. “Well, here’s a newsflash for you, Mr. Philips. You don’t hold a monopoly on fidelity, bravery or integrity.” Livid, frustrated he was taking the wounds from his past out on her, she bit out, “One judgmental man in my life is enough, so you can take your paternalistic attitude and go to hell.”
His expression didn’t ease. “That’s not a problem,” he said. “Because I expect more from the woman I love.”
Carly’s heart soared even as the floor dropped out from beneath her stomach, the twin sensations leaving her sick. The sting in her eyes grew sharper, because the horrible part was she knew it was true. She’d felt the emotion when he’d clung to her in the hotel room. Hunter did love her. But she also realized why that news didn’t bring the happiness she’d always dreamed it would.
Because there were all kinds of love. The unrequited kind, that often left one bitter. The kind that was reciprocated, sure and strong, which made a person feel invincible. And then there was the kind that was returned but wasn’t mature enough to last, stunted by the shadows of the past.
And that was what she had with Hunter.
“I expected more from the man I love,” she said. Hunter’s expression remained walled up as she went on. “I need a man who’ll stick by my side. Who has faith in me.” She fisted her hands at her side. “I need someone who believes in me.”
His voice was dangerously soft. “Unfortunately,” he said as he straightened up to push the elevator button, “that man isn’t me.”
Stricken, Carly stared at Hunter’s over you expression as the elevator door closed, cutting off the excruciating view.
“Life sucks.” Carly flopped back onto the plush comforter of the king size bed in the hotel room, staring up at the ceiling.
Abby shot her a sympathetic look. “I don’t think Hunter meant the things that he said, Carly.”
Carly dragged the back of her hand across her eyes, impatient with herself. She was tired of being madder than hell. And she was equally fatigued from feeling as if Hunter had whipped out a gun and blasted a shot at her chest at close range, leaving her bleeding in the wake of his retreat. Since he’d packed up and left, gallantly paying the bill for an extra day—as if she’d want to stay and gamble her money when she’d already lost her heart—she’d fought back the urge to hunt him down. To knock that dumb metaphorical white hat off of his head, stomping on it until it was good and flat.
The exhaustive flip-flopping of her emotions had left her wrung out and empty.
Abby sat on the bed beside Carly. “Look at it this way,” Abby said. She placed a comforting hand on Carly’s shoulder and crinkled her brow, the jet-black pigtails shifting in response. “He wouldn’t have been so upset about finding you talking to his old colleague if he didn’t really care about you.”
Care? He’d said he loved her. For years she’d dreamed of hearing those words from someone she loved in return, but she’d never imagined that the moment could bring such agony.