I sighed heavily, letting go of my annoyance. How could I harbor any frustration when the man mentioned, even without saying her name, the woman he’d lost? The reason he’d hit on the gals from Montreal last year was he knew he wasn’t going home with them. He hadn’t gone home with anyone since his long-time girlfriend had died three years ago in a fatal car wreck. He’d simply covered up his pain with harmless flirting that went nowhere. But lately, he’d seemed better, happier, more together.

I leveled him with a stare. “I say it because I want you to be happy again, you miserable bastard. I want you to find a sliver of what you once had.”

“That’ll never happen.”

“Do you really believe that?” I asked, hoping he’d say no.

He just shrugged, and I hated that a part of him did believe it. I’d do nearly anything to help him find that place again where he could be happy.

“Look, Brand. I get it. What happened was devastating, no denying that,” I said, because the man splintered in a million pieces when he lost Jenna. But he’d steadily been picking himself up, finding ways to enjoy life. Taking off to live in Paris was part of that, escaping from the memories of his life here in Vegas with his longtime girl. I missed him, but I’d hoped the new location was exactly what he’d needed to move through his grief. Only, I didn’t know if he’d truly made a life there. “And when you’re ready, you’ll be ready,” I added. “But I hope for your sake it’s soon, because it would be awesome to see you with a legit smile again.”

He flashed another half grin. “I’m happy enough. And I’ll be happy for you when you face your feelings for your Robin. Or your Catwoman. Whatever she is to you. See you this weekend,” he said with a smile and ended the call.

As I stared at the blank screen, I shook my head, talking back to the emptiness. “There’s nothing to face,” I said, and I believed it. I had to believe it. Feelings weren’t part of the equation. They couldn’t be. Nina didn’t want them. I was allergic to them. Besides, I didn’t want to play Batman and Robin with her.

When I hopped into my Tesla, my phone dinged with a text message. I slid it open to find the painter updating me.

David the Painter: We will be there shortly! We should be finished by tomorrow at the latest.

I sent a quick thanks and pulled out of the garage, running through options this weekend for our regular crew of friends, plus Brandon. The club we all liked at The Luxe, a nearby pool hall, or maybe dinner at a swank eatery in The Cosmopolitan.

Would Nina and I go out as clandestine lovers or friends once more? Would we be done with her list by then?

My muscles tightened at the thought, but I shook it off as I headed into the office.

Her list was full of items, and we’d tackle them all.

Including number eleven.

I’d find a way to make all her wishes come true.

That was what I wanted for Nina. For my friend. The woman deserved the world. She deserved to know, too, that I was still the man she could trust, that I hadn’t run off and told Brandon anything at all.

After I said hello to my employees, I shut my office door and picked up my phone.

13

Adam

I tapped out a simple text.

Adam: Hey you.

Nina: Hi.

Adam: I need you to know—I won’t say a word to anyone. What we did is personal. I’m not the type of guy who brags and you are NOT a conquest.

Nina: Thank you. Also, I know you’re not that type of guy.

Adam: But I do know you’re close to your friends, so if you want to share with them, I have no issues with that. I get that women like to share.

Nina: Got it. I have the seal of approval to tell Lily and Kate you have a big d-i-c-k.

Nina: Oops!

Nina: Wherever did that naughty side of me come from?

Adam: That naughty side is you, Nina. By the way, this morning was absolutely amazing.

Nina: It was for me. But was it for you?

Adam: Couldn’t you tell how much I loved it?

Nina: I think, but in all honesty, I’m still figuring this out. Everything is new to me.

I leaned back in my chair, rereading that, letting the enormity of her words sink in. Her question was normal, something any woman would ask of her man, and a man of his woman. But with Nina, there was a whole other layer. She didn’t have any history to compare me to. And I loved that. I craved being her first everything. And this was a first for her too—talking about what she’d done. Not only had she let me in, now she was letting me in her head in another way. And I wanted to honor that and give her what she needed too.


Tags: Lauren Blakely The Gift Erotic
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