He gripped my chin. “Look at me, Kensey. I lied to you about Chicago, yes. But I haven’t touched another woman since I first met you.”
“Then who was the redhead at the art gallery? Another stepsister?”
More shock rippled across his face. “What the fuck is this, Kensey? Where are you getting all this?”
“The redhead?” I pushed.
His jaw tightened. “A friend.”
“Really?” I drawled, doubtful. “So if the blonde is your stepsister and the redhead is simply a friend, neither of them is the mother of your son?”
His face scrunched up. “I don’t have a son. What the fuck are you talking about?”
“Sandy colored hair. Chubby cheeks. Approximately five or six.”
He exhaled a heavy breath. “Kyle is my nephew. Step-nephew. Whatever. He’s Emma’s son. And yes, really, Tara’s just a friend. If you want to be specific, she’s also my best friend’s sister. Or was. He’s dead. Committed suicide when he was seventeen.”
The grief in his tone took the wind out of my sails. “I’m sorry,” I said stiffly, though the words were genuine.
He let out a long sigh and wiped a hand down his face. “Kensey,” he began, voice softer now, “I know how it might seem, especially since I lied to you about Chicago, but there’s nothing between me and Tara. Nothing at all. She, Bastien, and I are working on a project together. He was with us that night at the gallery. Who went to you with tales about me?”
I gave a little shake of the head. “It doesn’t matter. Like I said, I’m tired—”
Blake’s strong hands captured my face and cradled it gently. “Baby,” he whispered. “I didn’t want or mean to hurt you. Didn’t know that I could.”
“I don’t like that you can.”
“I don’t like how much my gut’s twisting at the hurt on your face. You’re not supposed to matter, but you do.” He slid his hand around my nape and drew me against him. I didn’t melt into him, but I didn’t fight him either. Just stood there as he held me, breathing in his cologne and silently berating myself for not pushing him away.
He trailed soft kisses down the side of my face. “I want to see you tonight.”
The guy had some front. “Blake—”
“I haven’t seen you in almost a week, which is bad enough. Now I’m hearing that someone filled your head with shit that would make you think I’ve betrayed you, and I’m seeing that you’re hurting and pissed because I lied to you. If you want to end this, I can’t stop you. But at least talk to me before you do.” He tugged on my ponytail so that my head fell back. “Come to the Vault tonight,” he coaxed, rubbing his nose against mine. “We don’t have to play. We can just have a drink, a meal, talk—whatever you want. I just want to see you.”
God, was I really caving? Yes, yes, I was. “I don’t think—” And then his mouth was on mine, hungry and seeking. His tongue swept away my objections as he took and demanded. But there was a new softness there … an apology? An effort to soothe?
He ended the kiss with a gentle nip to my lower lip. “Missed this mouth. Always do.” He curled his hand around my chin. “You want some truth? It’s been one hell of a shitty week. I’m not kidding when I say that knowing I’d see you this weekend was the only thing that kept me from going nuclear. Finding you like this, hurting because of me … it’s a kick to the gut. Let me fix it.”
Oh, did he really have to say that? I was trying to stay pissed, but he was making it hard.
“Come to me tonight, baby.”
“Tired, I know. But you can give me an hour just to hear me out. Right?”
I looked to the ground, as if there would be some inspiration there. But, no, there wasn’t. I lifted my head and, even as I called myself all kinds of names from ‘stupid’ to ‘doormat’, said, “Okay.”
A slow smile curved his mouth. “That’s my girl.” He kissed me again, softer this time but no less hungry or demanding. “Rossi will pick you up at six.”
“I can drive—”
“I know that, baby. I’d pick you up myself if I didn’t have a ton of shit to do at the club.” He gave my nape a squeeze. “I’ll meet you in the basement. Yeah?”
Face soft and lazy with approval, he planted a gentle kiss on my mouth. “See you later.”
I watched him stride to his car with that confident, dignified gait, wondering if giving him a chance to explain made me weak. “You can come out now,” I said as he drove off, knowing Sarah would be within earshot. There was no way the girl wouldn’t have eavesdropped.
She walked outside, her expression surprisingly soft. “Did you hear him say that seeing you hurting because of him was like a kick to the gut? That was so sweet. And he said you mattered.”
I worried my lower lip. “Do you think I’m being stupid by agreeing to see him tonight, considering I don’t know if I can even believe a word that comes out of his mouth?”
Sarah pursed her lips. “There’s nothing stupid or wrong about hearing him out before you decide to walk away. You’re due an explanation.”
I nodded, taking a deep breath.
“I also think that if you don’t go, he’ll just come looking for you anyway.”
Yeah, so did I. The click-clack of heels was swiftly followed by the appearance of Sherry. I groaned, anticipating what was coming.
Planting her hands on her hips, she glared at me. “You going to tell me what the hell that was about? You said you’re not dating Blake. Your mother—”
“When you’re ready to tell me about the riding crop and handcuffs I saw in your locker, I’ll tell you about Blake,” I said.
Sherry spluttered, cheeks flushing. “They were gag gifts.”
Sarah’s eyes twinkled. “Ooh, she lies, Kensey. How shall we break her?”
“I’m willing to forget what I saw if your mom is willing to forget that Blake just showed up here,” I said. “I’ll even do her the added kindness of telling her who started the rumor that your dad wore her panties to work.”
Sherry’s eyes bulged. “Dodger did nothing of the sort. And there’s no such rumor.”
“There soon will be if you don’t agree to hush up.”
Her mouth tightened. “Fine. But other people saw Blake come here and make a beeline for you. It’ll get back to your mother somehow. Good luck with that.”
As I rode the elevator down to the basement, I smoothed my trembling hand down my silk teal dress. I didn’t know why I was nervous, but my heart pounded, and my stomach kept rolling. Maybe it wasn’t so much nervousness as anticipation. I was anxious for answers. No, I was anxious for forgivable answers. I wanted there to be a good reason why he’d lied to me. I wanted to hear something that would make me trust his earlier claim that he hadn’t betrayed me with those women. And I wanted to believe that he’d meant it when he said I mattered to him.
Didn’t want much, did I?
The elevator doors slid open. And there was Blake, just a few feet away, standing proudly erect, broad shoulders back, feet wide apart. He looked self-assured. Strong. Powerful. And I was hit hard by the raw magnetism that seemed part of his basic character.