Page 39 of Black Lies

I bought the ring thirteen months ago. On a whim, my head clearing enough to realize that I was downtown, for a reason I didn’t know, a swarm of people around, the daily grudgefuck that was San Francisco. I hate this city, its shove of too many people in too tight a space, the fight for air claustrophobic in its necessity. I stood on that crowded street, dirty cracks underfoot, and saw the jeweler, across the street, a silver sign of black and white calm against the madness that was the crowded street. I worked my way through the crowd and stepped inside. Earrings maybe. Something to glint among the dark curls of her hair. I stepped into the calm and quiet of expensive and breathed easier. Smiled at the man who greeted me. Stepped, not to the display of necklaces and earrings, but to the left, my legs pulling me toward the glittering expanse of engagement rings.

I didn’t know what I was thinking. I couldn’t propose without coming clean. Without telling her about the black in my soul. I am damaged goods. I know that. She deserves to know that. To know what she is stepping into. The pain that I will drag her through, should the medication ever stop working. But all that left my mind when I stepped up to the glass. When my eyes scrolled over mediocre rings and stabbed the surface above one cluster of settings. “Let me see those.”

I walked out without a ring. There hadn’t been anything worthy of her. But they had worked with me. Tracked down a stone that fit her. A natural blue diamond. It took them three weeks to find one large enough. 2.41 carats, in the shape of a shield. A unique shape, a unique stone, perfect for her. They put it in a simple setting, then delivered it by Brink trunk. It sat in my desk for another month before I felt secure, felt right. The biggest decision of my life, more important than any deal, any development. I carefully weighed the decision, analyzed pros and cons, examined every facet of my relationship with Layana. Looked at it as a business decision, even though marriage should be anything but. But I already knew what my heart felt. No point in holding it underwater to drown in an unwinnable situation. I needed to go through an analytical process to ensure success.

Before proposing, I completed the analysis for me (positive result), and then for her. Tried to determine if this was a smart decision for her. Tried to anticipate the fallout that would occur if or when she discovered my secrets. Maybe she would be fine. Maybe she’d understand.

Or maybe she’d run for the hills.

I had stewed over it, worked through scenarios, turned that ring over a thousand times… then I had gone for it. Made a decision, let my accountants and family know, and said goodbye to all logical reason.

Love. It makes us do crazy things.

I rolled the ring against the pad of my thumb, watching the unclaimed diamond flash in the light from my desk lamp. Then I set it back in its box, closing the lid, and returned it to its semi-permanent home. I turned off the lamp and sat there for a long moment, my office and my heart empty and silent.

Chapter 44

7 MONTHS AGO

The next time I saw Lee, he came to me. His frame leaning against the back wall of my house, the early morning light casting golden shadows on his body. Bare, just shorts on, salt water drying on his body.

I came to a stop, my sports bra sticking, sweat running hot down my face. I wiped my face and met his eyes, my breath hard from my final sprint. “Hey.”

“Hey.”

“You’re back.”

He stepped out of the shadows, the sun illuminating his skin, his eyes squinting when he came to a stop in front of me, his hand reaching out and tugging on my ponytail. “Yep.”

“I missed you.” I couldn’t hold the sentence back. It was true, no matter how much I hated it.

His grin broke, as he looked down, tried to hide the reaction. His dimple winked at me, the combination one that made my legs weak.

“Don’t leave me again.” The weakness in my voice showed and he looked back up. Studied my eyes with a somberness that was more Brant than Lee.

“Okay.” He nodded.

I came down from my orgasm, his c**k deep inside, his body draped over mine, two shapes, both bent forward against the bedroom window, his mouth at my neck, the heave of his chest against my back as he thrust, groaned, moaned my name as he fully marked me as his own. Shuddered inside me before pulling out, whispering my name with a kiss against the back of my neck.

My legs gave out, his hand catching me before I fully dropped, dragging me backward until we were both flat on my bed.

“God, I love f**king you.” His breath was heavy and the bed shifted when he rolled, pulled me closer.

“Same here.” I closed my eyes. Appreciated the drift of air across my skin. Recovered.

“I need a shower.”

I grinned. “Me too. Give me a minute.”

“I don’t have a thing to do today. Take as long as you need.”

I kept my eyes closed. Felt him lift my hand. Trace his fingers over the lines on my palm. Pressed his lips against the spot, my fingers closing around his mouth.

“I love you like this.” His mouth against pillows, muffled slightly. I kept my eyes closed, my mouth curving into a smile.

“Like what?”

“Naked. Satisfied. Nothing on, nothing to make me feel inferior.”

That opened my eyes. I turned my head, tilted it up to him. “Inferior? Why would you feel that way?”

“We live in different worlds, Lana. Don’t insult me by ignoring that fact.”

I kept quiet. Felt the soft trail of his hand over my back that apologized for the tone in his voice. “But you’re here now.”

“Yeah. I couldn’t even tell you where I’ve been. Everything…” he grew quiet. “Everything fades unless I’m with you.”

It should have been a compliment. Instead, it felt more like a prison sentence. A statement of fact. I didn’t respond.

“I wish my mom could have met you.”

I forgot, for a moment, to breathe. Waited to see what would follow. Which path this conversation would take.

“She was so beautiful. Hair like yours—curly. Never in control. She used to chase me around the house and it would bounce, like a third person in the room.” His voice dropped, as if he had fallen asleep, and I strained for more. When he next spoke, I could barely hear him.

“I can’t really remember my father. I was eight when they were killed. A drunk driver, some country-club ass**le on a Sunday afternoon ran headfirst into their car. He lived, they didn’t.” The hand on my back had grown hard.

Silence.

“I’m so sorry, Lee.” I didn’t know what else to say.

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