I stand up and Randall catches my hand. “Where are you going?”
“The bathroom calls me,” I say. “Loudly. I have to pee.”
Marion laughs at my less than ladylike statement that defies my proper Emma Knight persona, but much about the Knight family now defies the proper manners I grew up being taught to be. Tugging my hand from Randall’s, I free myself, and step away from the group. I start walking and weaving through tables, quite certain there is a sway to my step, so much so that it’s embarrassing and I can’t look at Jax. My God, what am I doing? This isn’t like me. This isn’t even close to like me. I cut down a hallway and hurry to the ladies’ room. Once I’m there, I push in to find it blessedly empty.
I lean on the counter and mentally replay that night I’d stayed in my father’s house alone after his death, digging through my memories for the man I knew, but all I find are secrets. His secrets that are no longer secrets. I don’t know who I am anymore. I don’t know if I’ve ever known who I am. I was just who they wanted me to be. Who he wanted me to be, which is why I did things to feel something else, something that was all me, something that I now regret. I look in the mirror and study my heart-shaped face so like my mother’s, my long brown hair streaked with hints of red, while hers is a rich shiny dark brown that I always envy. My light green eyes, her green eyes. I think of all the times she and I traveled together, scouted together. And while we were away, my father played and plotted in ways I can barely fathom.
I push off the counter, knowing that I’m about to work myself up and that will do me no good, not when I have to go back to the table. I apply lip gloss and then open the door and suck in air as I come face to face with Jax. A man so raw and male that I pretty much melt where I stand just looking at him when this isn’t my usual reaction to men. I’m used to rich and powerful men. I’m used to the games they play, the way they chase me for my name and family money, therefore, why would I melt? But there’s something different about Jax North. Maybe right now I’m just in a place where I need a fantasy, an escape, and I just want to believe he’s different, and so I do. “Hi.”
“Hi,” he says softly, and when I sway slightly, he catches my waist, his touch a searing brand. And Lord help me, the heat that rushes through my body tells a story. I want to branded by this man. “I thought you might need assistance.”
I swallow against my suddenly dry throat, against the heat burning low in my belly at his touch. “Because I was walking drunk?”
His lips, his really beautiful, somehow brutal lips, curve. “Because you’re surrounded by assholes.”
Words that would be funny if they weren’t so accurate. “I’m afraid that’s a perpetual problem I can never escape.”
“A perpetual problem we accept is a choice. We choose who we surround ourselves with.”
“You’re born into your family. That’s not a choice.”
Even in the shadows of this dark hallway, the blue of his eyes darkens. “I wasn’t aware the company you were keeping tonight was family.”
Just like that, alcohol and this man have exposed one of my secrets. My family is not my happy place. “Those people exist because of my family.”
“They exist because you choose to make them exist.”
“Spoken like a man who aligns with his family.”
“Is that a problem for you?”
My brow furrows with this odd response and question. “Of course not. I was making a point. You don’t have to fight with your family.”
“Everyone has to fight with their family. That’s called the natural law of the land.”
“A man of wisdom and whiskey,” I say. “The latter of which exceeds my limits. A choice I made but nevertheless regret.”
“Assholes will do that to you,” he wisely concludes.
“Yes. All the assholes.” I laugh, a sincere laugh that surprises me. I haven’t laughed in, well, in a long time. “They multiply. The assholes that is.” I swallow hard and before I can stop myself, I’ve turned somber, and I’m adding, “Especially since my father passed.”
His fingers flex on my waist. “You could run away.”
“My father used to say never make a decision while running.”
“And mine used to say, never run from a decision,” he adds. “Sometimes standing still is, in fact, running from a decision.”
This conversation is now traveling to a place I don’t want to travel. “I should go.” I try to move away.