“Well, that’s exciting for her. What are you going to do? I thought you loved her?”

He steps forward and takes my hands in his. “She was great, but this means I don’t just need her to train a temp. I need her to train her replacement. It means there’s a position opening in my company.”

I frown. I still don’t understand how this is good news unless . . . Oh. Ooooh.

“You and I make such a great team. You can leave here. You won’t be at the mercy of Mrs. Wright and her kids. You could start training right away, and I wouldn’t have to go crazy knowing you’re spending your days with your ex.”

My mouth tastes sour. “You want me to leave this company and work for you just so you don’t have to think about me having a few conversations—business conversations—with Marston?”

“Brinley.” His face is a study of patience, but there’s a spark of frustration in his eyes. “This whole thing is nuts. They don’t pay you nearly what you’re worth here, and you work fifty hours a week. With me, you’d have an easy nine-to-five with better pay, better benefits, and we’d get more time together. You could focus on being a wife and a mom instead of giving all your energy to this place.”

I pull my hands from his grasp and step back. My head is spinning. “Did you forget the whole reason we’re doing this? I love The Orchid. I’m good at managing this place, and I don’t want to leave. My dream is to work for myself. To be completely in charge of my own life for once. That’s why I need my trust.”

“But wouldn’t it be nice to have that trust and use it for something else? Save it for Cami’s college and buy a house. Spoil yourself for once. I already have a business. We don’t need another.” He searches my face. “And working for me, well—isn’t that the next best thing to working for yourself?”

I shake my head. “No. It’s completely different.” My skin heats, and I can’t take a full breath. “I know you don’t know what it was like for me to grow up under my father’s thumb. You don’t know how he kept tabs on me even after I graduated from college. You don’t know how hard I fought to escape that feeling of being a prisoner in my own life, but I need you to try to understand: I’ll never be happy if I feel like someone else is controlling my fate.”

His smile falls away and he tilts his head to the side. “That seems a little dramatic. This isn’t an effort to control you. I just want to give you a good life.”

“I believe your intentions are pure. I do. But that’s not the life I want.”

“Which life don’t you want?” His face hardens and his nostrils flare. “The one where you work for me, or the one where you marry me?”

The words hurt me only because they’re so riddled with his pain, and I know that’s my fault. “You knew why I agreed to marry you. You knew and you lied to me to make me believe we were after the same thing.”

“We agreed to work together to make both of our lives better. That hasn’t changed. Nothing that matters is different here.”

“Everything’s changed.” I feel like he just pulled the rug out from under me and doesn’t understand why I’m scrambling. “We had a plan, rules, and now you’re completely changing the game. I don’t want to hurt you, Julian, but you’re not playing fair.”

“Is he?” he asks, his voice rough. “Coming in here, being part of this place you love so much more than me. Is he playing fair?”

“Are you off the hook for lying to me because Marston’s in town? Is that how this works? Do I have to give up my job and be your secretary because my ex is going to work beside me for a couple of weeks? Is that my punishment?”

Julian prowls forward, slow and angry. I back up and hit the wall, and he cages me in with a hand on either side of my head. “Your ex? Is that what he is to you? Does that mean you filed the paperwork? Tell me yes, and I’ll walk out of here and won’t say another word about him being in town and working with you. He can move in next door for all I care. Just tell me you filed.”

I open my mouth to explain that I’ve been busy this week, that a divorce is a big deal, that I’m going to get to it soon. But I don’t need to say any of those excuses out loud to recognize them for what they are. Julian deserves raw honesty. “I haven’t.”

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