Hearing him speak of such things rendered Pippi speechless with horror. His mom had been paid to kill him?
“She probably would have if he had paid her more—”
“I’m so sorry.” She could no longer contain herself, and she had to dig her fingers deep into her palms to keep herself from throwing her arms around him. “I know it won’t make a difference, but I’m really sorry.”
Acheron’s broad shoulders moved in a dismissive shrug. “It taught me to be tough at the very least. Although I was already twelve when she died, I had learned to fend for myself years before that—” Seeing her pale in reaction, he said gravely, “I had the worst childhood you could ever imagine.”
Her heart broke for him. “I’m just so, so sorry—”
“Sorry enough to give me another chance?”
The words ‘of course’ almost slipped past her lips when Pippi realized in consternation she was being manipulated. “Mr. Simo—”
“No.” This time, there was no smile in his eyes, nothing except a look so intense she realized too late she had been better off when he wasn’t being serious.
“Call me by my name.”
His voice was low and forceful, and something in her ached to obey him. And maybe she would, if there were only herself to consider.
Oh, if only.
But she had her family to think of, and pain chipped at her heart as she heard herself say, “I can’t.” She saw his jaw clench, and the sight gave her the oddest feeling. It was almost as if she had hurt him…and she didn’t like it. She just…didn’t. She gazed at him helplessly, tormented by clashing emotions and unable to make sense of a single one of them.
Beautiful, like a Greek god.
And for some reason, this particular god had chosen to don a police uniform and ride a bike to her home because…
Acheron knew the exact moment the truth dawned on her, with the way her head jerked up, and her blue eyes – filled with confusion and disbelief – came to search for his.
She had always been honest with him.
Getting involved with you – in any way – is just too much of a risk for me.
Which was why, Acheron knew, anything less than the truth would be a disservice to her.
“I want you.” He deliberately repeated the same words he had used before, and by the way her eyes widened, Acheron knew she thought the same thing. “You once asked me why, and I still have no answer to give you. I simply want you – but unlike before, I also know just how much I want you.”
Pippi’s heart was in her throat. The way he was looking at her was making her wish for the impossible, but what if she was wrong?
“I want you enough to have gone without sex ever since I kissed you.” Acheron’s voice was taut. “I just couldn’t make myself touch another woman.”
Pippi didn’t even have the chance to react. Her eavesdropping family had already done it for her, their loud gasps giving their presence away. She saw him wince, and she couldn’t blame him. “Sorry,” she whispered. “Just give me a moment and I’ll get rid—”
She had already started to turn away when his fingers curved around her elbow, and she froze.
Oh God, how long had it been?
And then he was spinning her to face him.
“It doesn’t matter.” He released her from his grasp, and a pang of emptiness struck her at the loss of his touch. “Neither of us will have anything to hide from them.”
Pippi found herself struggling anew to make sense of his words. “What do you mean?”
“I’m saying…I was wrong before.”
“At that time, all I let myself think of was what I wanted, and I thought, in my arrogance, I knew what you wanted, too.”
Despite the way his admissions still had her head reeling, Pippi could no longer keep silent. “You weren’t entirely wrong,” she forced herself to say. “I…I did want you to t-touch—”
“That’s not what I’m talking about.” His voice was gentle.
Her cheeks turned red. “Oh.”
“As much as it pains me to admit it, I realize now I was acting like a selfish bastard with you at that time. I thought I was hearing you just fine, but I wasn’t actually listening to you at all.”
“What exactly are you saying?” she whispered.
“I’m saying I had acted like an asshole before, and I hadn’t even known it.” His lips twisted in a humorless smile. “I was expecting you to be bowled over by the privilege of being my girlfriend for two months.”
She wanted to lie, but she just couldn’t. “I was bowled over—” She stopped speaking at the strained expression on his face.
“You’re too damn honest.”
Pippi stared at him, bewildered. “And you don’t like it?”
“It makes me feel like you’re too good for me, so no. I don’t fucking like it.”