We’ve had no opportunity to discuss anything further, so I have no idea whether she’s content with the decisions she made or if she’s swimming in a pool of self-flagellation for participating in something she didn’t feel comfortable with.
That compounds the guilt pressing down on me.
But even if what I’m feeling right now doesn’t have a shred of fucking rationality, there’s one thing I can’t seem to move past.
Her last words to me in the car after we’d returned from the club. “What? That I got over you and moved on the way you did? Sorry, but that didn’t happen for me.”
How do I even begin to accept Leighton never got over me? While I spent the early years mired down in hell, wondering what happened to her, I eventually had to move on for my sanity’s sake. What does it say about me that Leighton never did?
“Fuck it,” I mutter as I get out of my car, hurrying through the garage into the mudroom.
The house is silent, the lights off in the kitchen and living room with only a single lamp in the foyer providing enough glow so I can see where I’m walking.
I make my way down the hall to Leighton’s room on light feet in case she’s sleeping. Mike’s on night duty with Sam, so we’re alone.
Light spills out from underneath her door, so I don’t hesitate in knocking softly on it.
“Come in,” she calls. When I push the door open, my heart gives a tiny lurch.
Leighton is in bed, reclining against the headboard with lots of pillows propped behind her shoulders and the tableside lamp glowing softly. She has a book in her hand, glasses I didn’t know she needed perched on the end of her nose. Her hair is pulled back in a barrette, away from her face, which is scrubbed clean. She looks young and fresh.
She also looks nerdy in a sexy way, which is a complete turn-on for some reason.
Tilting her head, Leighton asks, “What’s up?”
I try to analyze her tone. She seems genuinely curious about why I’m there, and it makes me wonder where she thinks I’ve been. Did she think I would be at The Wicked Horse without her? Does she even care?
I shake my head, dispelling those thoughts. Whether I go to the club at some point in the future without Leighton is my business and mine alone.
Granted, I have absolutely no desire to go there without her, which is only part of the complex conflicting emotions I need to reconcile within my brain.
I find myself at a loss for words, so I blurt out the first thing that comes to mind. “Did you eat dinner?”
Leighton shoots me a look, clearly asking if I’m crazy. “Yes, I ate. It is almost ten PM.”
“Oh,” I say as I tuck my hands into the pockets of my jeans.
“Where have you been?” she asks.
I don’t have to analyze that tone. It’s clearly laced with a bit of jealousy and censure. She thinks I was at the club.
“I stayed late at the hospital to have dinner with Sam,” I reply, moving to the edge of the bed. “Then I went to the office for a few hours.”
“Oh,” she murmurs, and her gaze returns to her book.
The silence stretches, becoming slightly awkward. When I go to sit on the edge of the mattress, Leighton moves her legs to make room for me.
“Look,” I start, not sure if this is going to come out right. “I wanted to apologize for the other night.”
Leighton’s brows furrow. “Apologize?”
“For pushing you into that threesome,” I say with true regret. “I don’t think you were ready for it. Don’t think you’re ready for The Wicked Horse at all. It was my own selfish desires that brought you there. I feel like I ruined you or something.”
There are a couple of reactions I expect from her. First, for her to give me a grave nod of understanding as well as an admission I’m absolutely right. It was too much, too fast. Or maybe even a swift denial, Leighton wanting to portray she’s brave and fearless and can handle anything I throw her way.
What I don’t expect is for her to tip her head back, clutch her stomach, and start laughing hysterically.
Quite dumbly, I gape at her. When she doesn’t stop laughing, I scowl.
Ultimately, I have to ask, “What the fuck are you laughing about?”
Lifting her glasses from her face, she wipes her eyes. She was actually laughing so hard that tears came out.
What the fuck?
Leighton shakes her head, snickering again before giving me an apologetic look. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have laughed when you were obviously feeling bad. But you shouldn’t. I’m okay with what happened.”
My eyes narrow. “You wouldn’t just be saying that to alleviate my guilt, would you?”
Adamantly, she shakes her head. “I swear. Yes, I was quite innocent and naïve when you walked me through the doors of The Wicked Horse. Never in my life had I imagined such things. But just because I hadn’t doesn’t mean I wasn’t insanely curious when the opportunities were presented. Doesn’t mean I’m not an adventurous person, August. Doesn’t mean I don’t have the emotional maturity to handle it. I’m a woman who has feared for her life, had a child alone at the age of nineteen, and who later found out said child could die from cancer. You’d be surprised at what I can handle.”