“Am I supposed to keep my hands off you until this divorce or annulment or whatever goes through?”
“I never said that.”
“But you don’t want me to touch you now? Just because you got drunk and stupid?”
“Don’t talk to me like that.” My voice is low, but clear enough that I know he can hear every word. “I spent the first seventeen years of my life listening to my father berate me and knock me down with his words. I’m not about to let you or anyone else do it now.”
He stands up and stares at me. “I just found out my fiancée is already married. You think you’re the only one dealing with fear and embarrassment? I’ve been played before, Brinley. This feels . . . way too familiar.”
My heart sinks. Julian’s last serious relationship ended when the woman ran off with her ex-boyfriend and a bunch of Julian’s money. “Julian, I’m sorry, but this is different.”
“I’ve been here. I’ve been your friend, your lover. I’ve helped you out when money was tight.”
I want to remind him I never asked for that help. I want to remind him I pushed back when he insisted Cami and I move into this condo. I can’t afford even a small unit in this building on my salary, let alone this one, with three bedrooms and every offered upgrade. But he insisted I move in and pay just a fraction of the rent. “We’re getting married. Let me take care of you.”
But the truth is that I’ve been so caught up in my own whirlwind of emotions that I haven’t given much thought to Julian’s feelings, and that’s unacceptable, so I don’t say any of that.
“I’ve been here, and I’ve been mad about you all this time,” he says, quieter now.
“I know.” I draw in a long breath. “But be fair, J. I’ve been honest about my feelings and my reservations from the beginning.”
“I know.” He swallows. “And maybe that’s why it hurts so much to know you married him after a few hours in Vegas. And you’re second-guessing us after he shows up out of the blue. I’ve been here, and I’ve promised you I’ll always be here. What’s he promising you?”
“It doesn’t matter.” I shrug. “I’m going to fix this.”
“Then why haven’t you called your lawyer?”
I bow my head, embarrassment and shame heating my cheeks. “I don’t know.” I look up. “Wait—how did you know I hadn’t?”
His lips twist into a sneer. “Just a hunch.” He grabs his keys off the counter and shoves them into his pocket. “I set the timer for the lasagna. Just pull it out when it’s done. Let it cool before you put it in the fridge or . . . Fuck, throw it all away if that’s what you’re into tonight.”
I feel helpless. We’ve never fought before—nothing more than minor disagreements—and I don’t know how to handle this side of him. Is this how he’ll act any time things are tough? “You’re being cruel.”
He shrugs. “I’m human, Brin. And you’re fucking hurting me right now.”
He walks away, and the walls shake as he slams the door behind him.
* * *
“Marston!” Smith calls from behind the bar the moment he spots me. “Get your ass over here, you rich prick.”
Grinning, I make my way toward him. When I was here last night looking for Brinley, her cousin wasn’t around. Probably for the best, since I was in no mood to catch up, but tonight, nothing sounds better than a drink with my old friends, and when I called Smithy, he promised to make it happen.
Grant Smith, or Smithy to anyone who knows him, looks pretty much the same as he did in high school. He’s thicker in the shoulders and chest and has a little more facial hair, but I’d recognize him anywhere. His light brown hair’s a little longer, just past his chin now, giving him a hipster-stoner vibe.
It’s so easy for me to remember the bad shit about Orchid Valley. For years, my strongest associations with this place, aside from Brinley, were the shame and embarrassment that came with being Aunt Lori’s pity case, and I’ve forgotten about the good parts. I made some great friends during my time here, and I’m an ass for not doing my part to keep up with them.
I tap the knuckles he holds out for me. “Smith, nice place.”
“Thank you. Nothing compared to all your fancy-ass resorts, but I like it. Fuck, man, I can hardly keep up with running this place. I don’t know how you do it.”
I grunt. “I don’t run them. I run the company that gives those resorts advice.”
“Is there a difference?”
I laugh. I can’t imagine Smithy would be as impressed with my job if he realized that at the root of it all, I’m just a geek with a spreadsheet. “Countless differences, but the biggest is I pay other people to do all the real work.”