Page 19 of Black Lies

“About what?” He seemed calmer, the clench of his jaw less noticeable.

“This line being faster.”

“It’s not.”

I looked up at him, my hands pausing in their search for a mint. “What?”

“This line’s not faster. It’s gonna take an extra five to seven minutes in this line.”

I whipped my head right, looking in exasperation at the other line, Hawaiian shirt guy and his loud wife a good eight people closer to security than us. “Then why’d you tell me to stay here?” I couldn’t help it. I looked at my watch.

“I watched her.” He pointed to the wife of Hawaii. “Then decided on the opposite course of action.” He met my glare head on. The corner of his mouth crooked a little.

I couldn’t stop the laugh; it bubbled out with enough force that I had to sit, my ass on the edge of my suitcase, every ounce of the day’s stress leaving in that one moment. And suddenly, it didn’t matter if we made the plane or not. If the weekend was a disaster, or saved. All that mattered was that I was with him. I shook my head. Tilted my head back when he leaned down, tugging a soft hand on my ponytail as he kissed me. “I really do love you,” I whispered against his mouth.

“You have no idea how happy that makes me,” he replied, taking the time for an extra kiss. Behind us, an exasperated sigh sounded, the irritated tap of a feminine shoe making our holdup of the line known. He offered me his hand and hefted me to my feet, his other hand scooping up my suitcase and moving us a few steps closer to takeoff.

I might have gone years without discovering his secret. He certainly hid it well enough, Jillian a primary aid in that deception, a large part of her world dedicated to ruse control. I wasn’t the only clueless one. It was something the media, a force that loved Brant, had no clue about. Something his company executives were unaware of. And me, someone who saw the man once or twice a week, had his hands on my skin, his mouth in my ear, his eyes on my own… it took nine months for me to discover the secret. It could have taken even longer. I look back now and see very little clues.

But the closer we grew, the more time in each other’s presence… it was only a matter of time. I now understood Jillian’s fight, her battle to keep us apart, the minor things she did to place obstacles in our way.

As it was, I discovered his secret on our first night in paradise.

Chapter 18

There was the flap of curtains in pitch-blackness when I woke up. The crash of waves put me in my bedroom but the air was wrong. Not the icy Californian chill, but a balmy caress, warm enough to comfort, cool enough to kiss my skin. I sat up, my eyes adjusting, the white linen curtains billowing in the wind, the glow of the moon becoming visible. I relaxed back against the sheets, rolled, stretched out my arms, feeling nothing but emptiness beside me. Stilling, I listened, lifting my head when I didn’t hear anything. “Brant?”

Dead silence. No one in our suite but me. I slid off of the bed, my bare feet slapping across the floor as I made my way to the bathroom. Found my purse and pulled out my cell. Powered it on.

This resort didn’t believe in electronics; they were of the mindset that you couldn’t relax unless you ‘Got Away From It All!’ and ‘Returned To Nature!’ It was one of those concepts that seemed like a good idea until we got here. Within two hours we realized our attachment to air conditioning and Internet, our technology withdrawals peaking at the moment when we failed to find in-room electrical outlets to charge our cells. I flipped on the bathroom light and watched my Samsung go through its opening scripts, the time finally displaying. 1:22 AM. Late.

I called Brant’s cell, realizing, as it went to voicemail, that his cell was off, its battery-saving mission more important than my own. I stepped to his suitcase, unzipping its top and digging through it, looking for the brick of his cell. What I wasn’t looking for, when my hand shoved aside underwear and swim trunks, was the ring box.

Oh no. My hand froze, as I stared at the black velvet box. No. No. No. A woman got proposed to only once, assuming she picked wisely. It should be handled perfectly, the correct amount of delighted surprise filling her eyes. This discovery, at this moment in time, might ruin my reaction. I reached forward, brushing my fingers over its surface, and fought the urge to pull it out. Flip it open. Take a little peek.

I didn’t. I pulled back. Zipped the suitcase closed. Stared at it. I would still be surprised. I hadn’t seen the ring. I’d just practice my shocked face. Make sure it wasn’t grotesque or too exaggerated. I saw his phone, the bulge of it sticking from a side pocket and grabbed it.

I set both phones on the entrance table and took a chance, walking to the back balcony and stepping out. As I scanned my eyes over the beach, moonlight reflected off waves, the sand pristine, unmarred. No billionaire walked along its surface. Nothing but nature. Yeah, it was pretty. Big deal. I would have traded it all for a television with HBO.

A ring. A proposal. This was the perfect place for it. Mrs. Layana Sharp. The name alone put goosebumps on my skin. Was it what I wanted? Absolutely. No question. My biggest complaint with our relationship was that I wanted more of it. More time with Brant. More insight into the beauty that was his mind, the pieces of him hidden behind his slight smile. I wanted a partnership, wanted children with the man, wanted to move in and fill up a home with memories. Be his wife. Grow up and have a purpose. And tomorrow, it seemed, I would have it.

I scanned the beach one last time and turned, stepping back into the room and closing the doors, the sound of the ocean muted. I glanced back at the bed. Took a moment and contemplated a return to it.

I was used to waking up alone. The few nights I had spent at Brant’s he often got up during the night. Headed down to the basement to work or drove to the office. It didn’t bother me; I wasn’t someone who needed a full night’s bed commitment to feel secure. But here, in this resort, with no work in sight, where was he? And why didn’t he leave a note? The questions tugged at me. Kept me from moving toward the bed. I moved to the closet instead. Tugged a robe over my silk pajamas, loosely tied the belt, and worked my feet into slippers. Grabbed both of our phones, my room key, and a handful of cash. Schooled the goofy smile on my face into a more appropriate one. Then I stepped out, tugging the door shut behind me. And went to find my future husband.

It didn’t take long. It was a small resort—another issue that ensured the Sharp party of two would not be making a return visit. There just wasn’t enough to do here. Not for a couple who didn’t want to hike nature trails or watch sports. Especially not for a man who got his kicks off on things that beeped and lit up. Ten minutes later, I walked into the place I should have started at—the hotel bar. Even though Brant didn’t really drink, didn’t seek out social mingling or groups of people. But, at almost 2 AM, it was one of the only places open inside the gates. I walked through the doors, eyed the scant crowd, and saw him, his back to me, hand resting on the bar, in a cluster of people I didn’t recognize.