“Maybe. Maybe not.” I hum and stir my drink. “Mark is the best message taker at the governor’s office, though. If Jessica answers, I hang up and call back.”
His drink hits the bar with the clunk. “You phoned in your support.”
“No big deal.” I shrug. “I was bored.”
Elijah’s laugh heats me all the way down to my toes. “Damn. You’re something else, Goose. Thank you.” My shoulders and cheeks flush everywhere his gaze lands until it’s a struggle not to squirm in my seat. Finally, he finishes his leisurely scrutiny, his voice tender when he asks his question. “Kayaking. Want to explain?”
“Yeah,” I laugh and tuck loose hair behind my ear, like a girl on her first date. “Turns out my grandmother was even more badass than I thought. She used to launch from Remley’s Point and kayak down the Cooper River. So I went out today and did the same. I…wanted to see it through her eyes.”
He reaches out and rubs his knuckles on my knee—eyes full of comfort—before taking his hand back. “Did you wear a life jacket?”
I keep my features guileless. “What’s a life jacket?”
“Not funny. I’ve never been convinced kayaking around Charleston is safe. Not when there are speed boats ripping past you going ninety miles an hour.” He frowns into his drink. “I’m going to look into it on Monday.”
“This is when you stomp your cane.” I give him a teasing look. “You’re not going to pass a law to prevent me from kayaking, are you?”
“I might.” His eases off his chair and moves close. Close enough that his belt buckle brushes my knees. “I’d do that and more to keep you safe.”
Lungs. They don’t make them like they used to. Mine are clearly malfunctioning. “Why did you come here, Elijah?”
His body is angled in such a way that the room can’t see his hand settle on my thigh. Or the way his thumb creeps high along the inside. “I was in your apartment today. Didn’t relax me as much as it usually does.” He shakes his head. “Didn’t feel like home at all without you there.”
I’m completely helpless while he’s touching me. That fact has never been more obvious. Listening to Elijah tell me I’m the reason he kept coming back, my breaths are rattling in and out, my heart stuck in my throat. “Really?”
My words are almost slurred from hope and happiness when I speak. “S-so what are you going to do about it?”
He wets his mouth, his fingers twisting in the hem of my skirt. “I don’t know where this can go, Addison,” he says in a low voice, resonant. “I need us to stay friends, because I don’t like my days passing without you. But I want your nights, too. Goddamn.” His laughter is pained. “Goddamn. I need to get underneath this skirt so bad, I’m not fit to be in public.”
Pain cuts my lust down the middle so fast I get dizzy. On some level, I think I might have been expecting this, though. Our sex was explosive. He wants more. But I’m not the girl that gets a man like Elijah in front of the altar in a bow tie. “You want to be…friends with benefits?”
“No.” With a scoff, he drags my stool closer and gets right in my face. “No, Addison. I’d like you to be my girlfriend.”
What? If it were possible for humans to fly, I would be soaring through the bar right now. Just clutching my chest and turning revolutions above everyone’s heads. But my brain knows this is bad. This man can’t help but do the right thing. He wants to sleep with me and this is how he manages it without feeling guilty. That’s all it is. Wanting guilt-free sex doesn’t make him a bad person—it makes him a good man with physical needs.
But where will this leave me when his appetite is satisfied? It will leave me kicked to the curb, just like my mother. Out in the cold someday soon, looking through the windows of the mansion, watching Elijah’s real life unfold. The life he was always meant for.
“Okay,” he says slowly, scrutinizing me. “There’s a lot going on up in that head. You’re wondering why it took me so long to pull my shit together, right?”
“What happened with the wedding, Goose…” He shakes his head. “I don’t know if I ever got over it, you know? When you’re always trying to do the right thing and something huge like that blows up in your face…I don’t know if I can explain it. Except to say, I haven’t worked my way through it yet. I’m trying.”
He’s telling me. Oh God. He’s telling me he’s not over Naomi. I mean, I already knew. But hearing it from his mouth while his hands are on me is devastating. My flying second self plummets to the floor and lands in a heap of protruding bones and wails of pain. I can’t be this man’s girlfriend when he’s still in love with his ex-fiancée. I can’t. A vision rises unbidden in my head. A side-by-side of Naomi and me—a screwed up version of “Who Wore It Best?” She’s in a sash and tiara, waving to an adoring crowd. And I’m hocking goods in the market with a cockney accent and soot on my cheeks. Okay, that’s pretty far-fetched, but it still hurts.