“It’s a very busy time, Brant.”
I tilted my head. “Not really. No irons in the fire. And you’ve done a good job of quieting any issues.”
“The board meeting is Monday.”
“And I’ll be back for it,” I repeated slowly, watching as she rose to her feet with a quick jerk.
“Please don’t forget the Rosewood event. I’ll have my assistant send her the details.”
Her. I didn’t think Jillian had ever muttered Layana’s name. A small snub, but noteworthy. Jillian was more of a mother to me than my own. It was important to me that they got along.
The woman didn’t give up; I’ll give her that. From the start, Jillian laid down battle lines before Brant and prepared for war. Every date had been a battle, his schedule often filled with emergency items stuck in on a day that should be free. Twice during the preceding months, he stood me up, Jillian texting with a bullshit excuse after repeated calls to his cell went unanswered. And he let her do it all. Dismissed her actions with a shrug of his shoulders.
“I don’t understand why she hates me.”
“She’s protective,” he explained. “And stubborn,” he added, reaching over the table to spear an olive from my salad.
“Protective? Why?” I stared at him across the table, the Californian coastline perfectly framing his features. Wearing a loose white V-neck tee paired with designer jeans, the watch that glinted off of his wrist a thirty-fifth birthday present from yours truly. He looked every bit the California playboy, so many of who dotted this shoreline. What he didn’t look like was a genius. Geniuses weren’t supposed to come in perfect packages with straight teeth, gorgeous features and a strong build. They were supposed to come with pocket protectors and acne scars, horrible table manners and obnoxious egos.
The beautiful man before me shrugged. Took a sip of ice water. “She’s always been worried about a woman going after me for the wrong reasons.”
I nodded. “A reasonable concern.” I didn’t know a wealthy man who didn’t share the same concern. But those same men ate up the benefits of their concern. Went through twenty-year-old cocktail waitresses like they were Kleenex. Brant… well everything Brant did was different. “Does that worry you?”
He stopped chewing, swallowed, and set down his fork. “Worry about you?” He sounded genuinely confused. “Dating me for my money?”
“Or your brain. Or that cock.” I raised my eyebrows suggestively at him but his expression didn’t change. Dead serious eyes stared back at me.
“It’s never crossed my mind.” He didn’t say the sentence in a tone that indicated he needed to consider it. He said the sentence like the ludicrous idea was one that was beneath him. I reached out, ran my fingers over the top of his hand, the palm of it rolling under my touch and cradling my hand. He lifted, bringing my hand to his lips, and placed a gentle kiss on my fingers.
I smiled. “Thanks for the vouch of confidence.”
“Thanks for sticking with me.”
“But we’re on for this weekend, right? You, me, and Belize?”
“Wouldn’t miss it.”
Our connection was broken by the wait staff, who brought our second course amid a flurry of trays and groveling and manners. We moved on to steak and salmon, and our conversation moved from Jillian the Difficult to Christmas and whose family would be blessed with our presence.
But it didn’t leave my mind. I watched him cut his steak, look in my eyes and listen to me, take occasional sips of his beer. And I thought of Jillian. I understood protectiveness. I felt the emotion where Brant was concerned—a fierce need to protect what was mine. The problem for Jillian was that he was mine. Not hers. An aunt didn’t have any property to protect, no claim over which to assert her dominance. And it was too late. I had him—had never been so sure of anything in my life.
I was a stupid, self-assuming girl. Sitting at that table? Smug in my confidence of my ownership? I’d never been so wrong. I didn’t have him. I only owned half of him. The other half? It was living a life I knew nothing about.
I have been with a hundred women, but never loved one until her. I could be with a thousand more and never find another Layana. She is beautiful, classy, but with a sharp edge that defines her personality, a thread of dark that complements all of her light. One that will cut you should you cross her. One that will fight for her wants, her needs, her opinions. She stares in my eyes and loves me with a vehemence all her own. A scary, passionate type of love. One that rips away all pretenses and allows us to love each other bare and without consequence.
I understand that my parents are scared. That Jillian fights against Layana with claws out, terrified that her involvement in my life will cause a repeat of the past. But I am stronger now. A man, not the boy of before. I’ve never felt so in control, so grounded. Maybe it’s from the medication, maybe it’s from maturity. But I’m not gonna risk it; I’ll continue the medication until the day I die. It balances me. It keeps my relationship with Layana safe. With its help, she will never know.
True love makes a person reckless, makes them take risks and make sacrifices. True love tests the boundaries of our person, makes us yearn to be better and fight for the ground we stand on. I will fight for this love. Lie for it. Steal for it. It is worthy of that. On paper, we are a horrible match. I have no light; she brims with it. I am serious; she is fun. But off paper, that is where our magic occurs. I want to be more like her. I want to listen to her laugh and have had something to do with it.
I love her completely. She returns the love wildly. This love is worth the unsaid truths. The hidden lies.
I knew the moment his cell rang, it’s rattle against granite, that it brought trouble. I stepped to the island, flipped it over, and saw JILLIAN on the screen. Silencing the call, I returned to my Cheerios, and listened to the static of Brant’s shower. My bags sat by the door. Brant’s were being packed as I chewed, the task handled by two girls who seem well versed in all things travel. I needed to borrow them for the next trip. Hell, with their level of efficiency, I should just move them into the guesthouse. They’d solve half of my organizational issues in a month.
I chewed cereal, heard zippers sound and doors open, then the two women wheeled a single suitcase by, polite smiles nodding my way. I let them out, returned to my breakfast, and heard the tone of a voicemail sound against the counter.