For a long time, the only thing I can hear is both of us breathing, both of us getting a grip on what just happened. She said she loves me.

As I clean between her legs, pressing the cloth napkin against her clit and forcing her head to fall back from the pressure, I’m all too aware that I didn’t say the words back.

And I don’t plan on it.

“You’re not going to your friend’s house to put her in danger and you’re not going to a fucking hotel and leaving my men out there to watch over you. You’re coming home with me.”

Shock colors her expression at first when I stand up and leave her where she is. She reaches for her tank top before anything else and then finally looks up at me.

“I don’t love you.” The words rush out of her, the hurt written on her face. She tries to swallow up the evidence of her lie, but it doesn’t work.

“Of course you don’t,” is all I answer her, burying the sensation that grows inside of me. I turn my back to her while putting my pants back on as she cleans herself up. “You’re coming home with me,” I repeat, focusing on what matters. A truth she can’t deny, unlike what she’s doing now.

The chair behind me groans against the floor as it’s moved and I peek over my shoulder to see her nearly dressed and avoiding eye contact. “Did you hear me?” I ask her, feeling something stir inside my chest with restlessness.

Bethany kicks aside a scrap of wood to stand and nods her head while answering me, “Yes, and that’s fine. I don’t want to go back to my place anyway.” Her voice is low, too low and devoid of any of the fight I’m used to from her.

The silence of the restaurant is uncanny as we wait there, with my eyes on her and her eyes anywhere else.

“Seth’s waiting for us outside. You’ll follow me and he’ll be behind you.”

She nods and audibly swallows but doesn’t say anything else as she wraps her arms around one another. Not crossing her arms in front of her chest, but laying them atop each other. Her gaze lingers on the front door, but she doesn’t move until I splay my hand on the small of her back.

That gets a reaction from her. She walks faster, fast enough for the pressure of my touch to be meaningless.

No one’s out front of the restaurant, no one except Seth leaning against the hood of his black Audi and keeping watch. The light dusting of white on the ground outside is evidence that the snow must have come and gone already. Leaving behind it a thick white fog, and the curtain of white across every surface.

Bethany lets me open the front door for her and I’m granted a muted thank you. Same with her car door. She doesn’t look toward Seth at all; she merely focuses her attention on each of her steps.

Seth’s gaze turns questioning. Anyone with any common sense can see she’s not well.

“Upset” is hardly a word I would use to describe Bethany. It’s too weak. She’s too volatile to simply be upset. But right now, it’s the only word I can find. She’s upset and I fucking hate it.

I love you.

She said it and then took it back. She’s confused and upset. Confusion runs deep in my mind as well. For the first time since I’ve set eyes on her, I’m uncertain what to do with her.

I want to hear her tell me those words again, and to mean it. But I would never wish for a girl like her to fall for me, either.

“You can close the door, Mr. Cross,” she tells me, staring at my shoes from where she sits in the driver’s seat. The clinking of her keys is all I can hear as I stare down at her, waiting for her to look up at me. My hand is still firmly on her car door.

A gust of wind passes and I can hear Seth clear his throat in the distance. Still I don’t look away, and neither does she.

“Bethany,” I murmur her name and she hums back, a sweet sound, seemingly just fine, but still doesn’t look at me.

“What’s wrong?” My grip tightens on the door when the question leaves me. I already know and I feel like an asshole. She’s a mess. That’s all she’s been since I’ve come into her life. A mess, but a beautiful masterpiece. She’ll do more good in a week at the hospital than I’ll do in my entire life. There’s no questioning that.

“Nothing,” she answers in a whisper, then peeks up at me, toying with her keys in her hand and offering a sad smile.

“You look like you’re going to cry.”

W. Winters Books | Romance Books | Irresistible Attraction Series Books