“Oh my God, Dad. Really?”
“What?” Mike was defensive. “I was asking for my daughter’s sake.”
“Or you could ask for his advice,” Hetty suggested primly, “so you can build your own one.”
Jane and Emma started to puke. “Yuck.”
Dinner was a quick and lively affair, with everyone tacitly agreeing not to talk about Christian. By six-thirty, they were already out at the porch. It was a long-standing Cooper tradition for everyone to give out candy to trick-or-treaters – but only after scaring them with a ghost story or two.
When she made it to bed, Jane was telling herself feverishly, Don’t text him. Don’t text him. DO NOT—-
But she did.
Jane: Anyone there?
Christian Ravenhearst’s grip on the steering wheel remained throughout his drive back to Miami. His conscience, dormant for most of his life, was now giving him hell. He had never lied about his work, and yet he had found himself doing exactly that, using it as an excuse to bail on Jane, the one woman who didn’t deserve it.
Half of him wanted to just turn the car around, go on his knees and say sorry for lying, and hope that Jane would take him back without any questions.
The other half of him, however, knew that he had already made his bed and the only thing he could do was lie on it. He had lied. To the only woman who hadn’t ever given him hell about his “third party,” the same woman he had committed to marry.
A heavy traffic jam crept up, trapping Christian in the middle of the highway, and he stared sightlessly outside his window, blind to all the red lights blazing out of the vehicles queuing on the other lanes. He glanced at the passenger seat beside him, and its empty space mirrored the hollowness inside of him.
It was a direct contrast to how he had felt earlier, when he was with Jane and her family. Then, everything had felt right, too much so—-
And it had disturbed the hell out of him.
All his life, Christian had found it easy to keep most people at arm’s length, having learned early on that most people were bound to disappoint him. He only trusted a small handful to get close to him, and all of them were people he had known for years.
Or at least it was so until Jane Cooper.
The first time he had met her, he hadn’t thought to question this. The way she could unfailingly make him laugh had enamored him, her candidness he found refreshing, and the way their sexual chemistry was off the charts something Christian had hungrily desired to explore. Everything about her had become an obsession, one that only got stronger every day. And fool that he was, none of this had bothered to him. It hadn’t even occurred to Christian to consider it a problem. Why should it? He had hit the jackpot, finding a woman who made him laugh, turned him on like no other woman could, and understood his passion for his work.
What the fuck could go wrong?
Everything, as it turned out.
While Christian was at Jane’s place, he had received a call from the head of his encryption team, telling him about a small security breach resulting from the latest update to H. And since final approval of every update was his job, Christian knew the blame lay squarely at his door.
“But we’re already working on the fix, sir,” Ray hastened to assure him. “I only called to report because of protocol.”
“You did the right thing. I’ll hit the road in a couple and be back as soon as I can.”
Ray released an audible gulp. “I’m sorry, sir. I didn’t think this would cause you to cut your holiday short. Nothing’s really wrong.”
But the other man was wrong, Christian thought. Everything was wrong. It wasn’t like him at all to be guilty of such a slip-up, and at that moment, he only had one claustrophobic thought in mind.
Things could only go downhill from there.
The more time he spent with Jane, the less attention he would pay to his life’s work, and before he knew it, all his sacrifices would be for naught.
“Just keep me posted.”
After hanging up on Ray, who had still been apologizing profusely, Christian had found himself making up an excuse to leave and letting Jane’s assumptions take care of the rest. When she had walked him to the car, he had told himself that it was time to put the brakes on his feelings for her. It was just too damn consuming, and it was threatening to bring his world down.
But when he had reached for the handle of the car door, Jane had suddenly hugged him tightly from behind, mumbling, “I miss you.”
And he hadn’t been able to help himself after that.
Christian had made love to her even knowing it was wrong. He had fucked her even though in the back of his mind he knew everything – every goddamn thing – was bound to change.