He ignored the sentiment. Continued speaking like the words were bottled up and needed an escape, his voice tight and quick, each syllable dipped in anxiety. “I didn’t have any other family. Got put in the foster care system. I had eight different homes by the time I turned eighteen. Three of the homes were okay, five…” I heard the sound his throat made when he swallowed. The hand at my back was gone and I rolled over. I rested my head on his shoulder and wrapped my arm around his chest. Wound a leg through his, until every part of my body was linked with his. Gave him comfort in the only way I knew. “Five… were bad. I disappeared when I turned eighteen. Got a few thousand bucks from the state and took off.” His hand returned. Drew a line down my spine. “You and I… we’ve lived different lives. I’ve never been taken care of. Have never had enough to take care of another person, much less spoil a woman like you. My entire life has been about survival. Fighting to get where I am. To get to the point where I will be good enough for someone else.”
I said nothing. Just laid there, wrapped in his arms. Felt the moment when he stopped waiting for a response and fell asleep, his hands going limp and heavy against my skin.
It was a wonderful story. Poetic in its portrayal of his life. Endearing. The creation of this tortured, confused man before me. Perfectly explained his desperation for love, mixed with a side of I’llNeverBeGoodEnough.
Too bad it was all a lie. I laid in his arms and wondered how many women he had told it to.
In some ways we are so close to everything, to a life in which one starts and the other finishes, a joining so complete that we are one. In other ways…
We are a world apart.
Lies. Lies are keeping us apart. I started this relationship with one lie, a part of my past that I have locked away and hoped she would never find out about. She started this relationship clean and innocent, and has piled on the lies since then.
I want to rid us of all of the lies, wipe our slate clean with one confession session. But I am terrified to tell her my secret. And I am terrified to hear her tell me hers. I know it, but I don’t want it spoken, don’t want it any truer than what I already know.
I just want to know why. Why does she cheat on me? What do I not provide for her? What part of me is not good enough? Why, when her love for me burns bright enough to singe… does she sneak off with a stranger? My biggest fear is that she loves him. My biggest fear is that he has wormed his way into her heart.
I love her too much to share her. I hate him with a vengeance that turns my blood white.
I’ve had her followed. Met with a private investigator and had him spend a month tailing her. But she was too smart, his report revealing that she has spent time with only one man: me. Now, I have Jillian watching her. Tasked with finding out anything and everything about the man who holds the love of my life in his hands.
I am an intelligent man. I have been called calculating. But I am not cold; I am not unfeeling. My love burns as bright as hers, as does my possession. But my anger, my emotion, doesn’t simmer on the surface. It hides, in wait, for the moment when it needs to erupt.
5 MONTHS AGO
“You won’t marry me.”
“Is that a question or a statement?”
“It’s the beginning of a question.”
“So… finish it.”
“I would, if you’d stop talking long enough to let me.”
I looked up from the pile of fruit before me, my hands on an orange that would have to be good enough, nothing else in the pile soft. I grinned at Brant. “So talk.”
He tossed a mango my way, weaving through the roadside stands until he was closer to me. “You won’t marry me… but why aren’t we living together?”
Yes, why Layana? I searched my brain for an acceptable answer, other than Lee. Pretty sure Lee wouldn’t agree to f**king my brains out on Brant’s bed. Then again… I had my downtown condo, the one that Molly and Marcus didn’t break in properly. It deserved a good round of f**kery. “Maybe,” I finally said, moving to the side, in front of the limes, Brant’s hand pulling at the back of my sweater, moving cashmere in a way that shouldn’t be moved.
“Maybe?” He wrapped an arm around me. Nipped at the back of my neck before staring down at me with a somber expression. “Maybe is your answer to my proposals.”
“It’s a good answer.” I smiled up at him. Raised onto my tiptoes and kissed his lips.
“It’s a horrible answer,” he grumbled, pulling me back when I tried to turn away. “Do you love me?”
I stopped. Set my basket down and wrapped my hands around his waist. Looked up into his face, the face that I loved more than life itself. “Of course I love you. Don’t ever doubt that.”
He leaned forward. Brushed my lips so softly I closed my eyes. Needed more. “Then move in with me,” he whispered. “Be my illegitimate girlfriend.”
“That wouldn’t be proper,” I said against his mouth.
“Then marry me,” he said, giving me a strong kiss and pulling off. Glancing around us with an exaggerated expression. “Do you want me to do it? Kneel down right here?” He patted his pockets, pretended to fish for a ring I knew damn well was in his office safe.
“No!” I cried. “For God’s sake, no. I will move in with you,” I promised, wrapping my arms around his neck and stealing one last kiss.
“I promise.” Then I shrieked, his hands swooping me up, our basket tipping over, fruit rolling to all ends of the aisle. “Brant, what are you doing?”
“House-hunting.” He hugged me to his chest, deftly moving through the crowd, my head craning for our basket.
“What about the fruit?”
“I’ll buy you a house with an orchard,” he promised, setting me gently down on the ground next to his car, his hand opening the door and holding it open for me.
“Now?” I asked dumbly, stepping up into the cab, watching his face as he shut the door and moved around to the driver’s side.
“I thought I’d just move into your house.” House was really the wrong word for it. Mansion. Fifty thousand square feet of space he barely used. A basement lab he had spent ten million dollars outfitting. He couldn’t move. Wasn’t possible.
“It’s my house. I want our house. A place to build our future. A place you pick out.” He shifted into gear and tossed his phone into my lap. “Call Jill. Find out which realtor I should use, then get them on the phone.”