“You’ve found her, haven’t you?”
I look up at Roman as he walks toward me. We’re at the pool beside the luxury resort that we’re staying in. Ana and little Roman are playing in the kiddie pool. My eyes haven’t left them.
That’s not unusual. My job is to watch my sister and nephew constantly, to make sure they’re always safe. I’m grateful that Roman has developed enough trust in me to give me this job. When I look at them sometimes my heart hurts in my damn chest. I don’t deserve to still have Ana in my life. I blamed her for so much. I pushed her away, I put her life in danger… Fuck.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, man,” I lie. I know exactly what Roman is talking about.
Roman’s right. I have found the one. She hit my life like a keg of dynamite the first time I saw her. I was dazzled, completely enraptured in her. She’s the one. She’s most definitely the one. The one thing Roman doesn’t understand is…
I’m not him.
“Bullshit,” Roman says, shaking the ice in his almost empty scotch. “Don’t fuck with me, Allen. I’ve built my life on reading people.”
“I can’t have her, Roman.”
“Why the hell not?”
“I’m not you, okay? I am who I am and nothing is going to change my past,” I growl.
I watch as Ana plays with my nephew’s boats and they’re laughing. Ana’s so happy. She deserves all this and more. I’m here because of her, but there’s not one thing about this life that I deserve—not after the things I’ve done.
“You’re right,” Roman says with such finality I jerk my head around. I mean, I knew what I was saying was true, but I at least expected the bastard to try and talk me out of it.
“Your past is fucked up. So was mine. You weren’t alone in that room that day exacting your revenge on that bastard. I was right there with you and, Allen, you’ve worked with me enough to know exactly how I deal with men who cross me,” Roman says and I rub the back of my neck, working on the tension gathering there. “You know exactly what I expect from the men who work for me to protect my family. I’ve never been good enough for Ana or my son. I never will be.”
“But they’re mine,” he says, interrupting me and sitting down in a lounger. I jerk around to look at him. His face is completely closed off but there’s a fire in his eyes. “And I’d kill any son of a bitch who would try to harm them or take them away from me.”
“It’s not about being a good man, Allen. I’ve never been a good man and I once roamed the same fucking streets you did. What brought us to the roads you and I travel might not be the same—but they’re not all that different.”
“She deserves better than me, Roman, and no matter what you say, man… it’s not the same. I’ll never be clean. There are times I shower in water so damn hot my skin feels like it will boil, until I fucking bleed—”
“And I still don’t feel clean. I’ll never feel clean.”
“You need to get back into therapy.”
“It was bullshit. It’s all bullshit. Nothing they say. Nothing I do can erase the past or the things done to me. They are inside of me, they’ve become a poison in my system and I might have pulled my life together thanks to you and Ana, but that poison still sits inside of me, reminding me. Every. Damn. Day.”
“So let it live inside of you, but claim your woman.”
“Jessie deserves better.”
“So does Ana, but I’m keeping her and I try every day to make sure she never regrets being with me. Trust me, Allen. Do the same. You will regret it the rest of your life if you don’t.”
“And Jessie will regret it the rest of her life if she finds out. I can’t do that to her, Roman. She deserves better.”
Roman stands and claps his hand on my shoulder. Our gazes lock and that fire is still burning in his eyes. It’s burning so bright it feels like it’s touching me.
“In my book, Allen, there is no better. You might have started off Ana’s brother, but you’re mine now and I couldn’t be prouder.” He walks off after delivering that message. I just remain here once he leaves, feeling like I can’t breathe. I watch the man who saved my life, who helped me recover when I was below the bottom, a man I love and admire, walk away after claiming me as part of his family. I close my eyes against the emotions that brings to the surface and my hands tighten into fists.
When I open my eyes it’s not Roman I see. It’s not even Ana or my nephew. It’s a vision that’s not even there. It’s a picture in my mind of Jessie smiling at me, her lips swollen from my kiss, her eyes filled with desire… desire for me.