Page 36 of Black Lies

“It’s okay.” I smiled at him. Reached out and took the key back. “I should have asked.”

“I just don’t need a vehicle I won’t drive.” He leaned over, looped a hand around my waist and kissed the top of my head. “You mind?”

Mind? I had stared blankly at the truck, a good ten grand of depreciation occurring in the two days since I had signed the bill of sale. I looked up at him. Let him bend down and kiss me. “No babe. I’m glad you told me.”

A BSX employee had driven the vehicle to my house, where it had spent most of its life in the garage. Now, Lee was in my driveway about to come over the damn thing. I took a few slow steps in the direction of the keypad. Lifted the Defender’s keys from the box and handed them to Lee.

“Here. You drive.”

He snatched the keys without acknowledgement, jumping into the vehicle, his hands running over the leather-wrapped steering wheel and adjusting knobs and settings, the roar of the engine loud in the garage. I watched him warily. Waited for him to pull out of the enclosed space before walking around to the passenger side. Stepped up and into the five thousand pound vehicle of pure masculinity. The vehicle that Lee seemed made for, his frame loose and in control, his hand gripping the shifter with a comfortable ease.

This was exactly what I imagined when I bought the truck. And maybe that’s why I bought it. Maybe I was trying to take my genius and dump him into a tub of masculinity and danger. Roughen up his smooth edges. I fastened my seatbelt and swallowed my side of guilt.

With the squeal of tires, Lee pulled out through my gates.

Ten minutes later, the blare of the radio competing with the whip of wind, I hit Lee’s arm and pointed. “There.” In the shopping center, a sports bar. Lee followed my hand, whipping the truck into a spot and hopping out, his hand resting on the side of the Defender a little longer than necessary, a bit of longing in his eyes.

I joined him, our hips bumping as we walked toward the restaurant, his arm looping around my shoulder, the gesture casual yet familiar. A few weeks of f**king and we were at ease in each other’s presences. I blushed, leaned over and pressed a kiss against his cheek. Felt the pull of his arm as he squeezed me into the kiss.

This didn’t feel like a rebound. It felt like it should. Complete. This would work. He would fall in love with me and only me. I came to a sudden stop when my eyes met Jillian’s.

Jillian’s eyes brushed over both of us, noticing everything about Lee in one long glance. A change, invisible to anyone else, but a billboard of emotions to me, swept across her face. I was unable to look away, unable to move. I stared at her until the moment that her critical gaze found its way to my eyes. There, we held each other, two women on opposite sides of a battlefield, my weapons sex and passion, hers the ties of family and history. We held an entire conversation through that stare. A heated battle of emotions, arguments discussed with tightened lips and silent looks. Then, the battle ended, the older woman closing her eyes in one, long, pained moment. I felt her disappointment. Her anger. Her frustration. I knew it because I felt it in my own heart.

I pulled away from Lee, tucking a strand of hair behind my ear, my hands dipping into my pockets, his eyes reading the motion. “What?” He glanced over, his eyes seeing and skimming over Jillian, the woman not registering in his search for problems.

“A friend of mine. Go on in. I’ll be there in a minute.”

He shrugged. “Whatever.” Tossed me my keys and turned. I would have bet, from the cringe on Jillian’s face, that he winked at her in passing.

I waited, stepping forward, seeing—out of my peripheral vision—him enter the bar, heard the rise in music and voices until the door swung behind him and we stood in silence, two opposing forces separated by four feet of concrete.

“What are you doing Layana?” her voice was tired. Beaten. As if we had had this argument a million times and she couldn’t bear to go through it again.

“I can’t…” I stopped. Tried to find my words. “You know what Brant’s like.” I dipped a head toward Lee. “He’s different. I tried… I can’t stay away.”

“You love Brant.” She sighed, her exhale a trip of congestion and old lady. “I know you do.”

I nodded. “I do.”

She glanced over her shoulder. “And him? Does he have any of your heart?”

I swallowed. Searched the recesses of my heart that I didn’t want to exist. “Part of me loves him too. I can’t really separate that.”

Her mouth tightened. “You’re playing a dangerous game.”

“It’s my game to play. I’m the one in the relationship.” I regretted the moment the flippant words left my mouth.

Her eyes fired. “You selfish stupid girl.” She pointed a strong finger toward the bar. “He’ll leave you, Layana. One day, you’ll wake up, and that boy in there will be gone. Brant loves you. He’ll be with you forever.”

I nodded. “I know.” I turned, tucked my purse under my arm because I needed something to do with my hands, and walked toward the neon. Her voice, quiet but firm, stopped me.

“Brant told me he proposed again.”

“Yes.” I turned. Met her eyes. “Should I marry him?”

She let out a huff of laughter, a cold and brittle sound that spoke of incredulity and hopelessness. “Lana, you know that I don’t particularly care for you.”

“I’m well aware.”

“But I don’t know if I’d be in support of any woman dating Brant. You could have left him. Back in Belize, when you found out about him. But you didn’t. You stayed with him. Five minutes ago I would have said yes, marry him. Now? Seeing you with him?” She jerked her head toward the bar. “You are threatening everything you have because you want everything you don’t. You don’t get everything when it comes to Brant. You get what he shares with you. And you have to be happy with that.”

I found my voice somewhere around the pit of my shame. “I don’t know that I can be happy with just that.”

She shook her head, her eyes filled with disappointment. “Love isn’t about being happy. Be single and be happy. Love is about putting him, his sanity, his happiness, first. If you aren’t willing to do that then you aren’t really in love.”

And, with that justified blow, she turned, her heels clipping through the parking lot, her head down, shoulders hunched. There was a part of me that loved that woman. That loved her fight for Brant. There was another part of me that hated her guts.