He laughs quietly. “I can’t believe you’re thanking me.” He seems to be searching for the right words. “Every second with you is an honor, Maisy.”
“I feel the same way about spending time with you, Jack.” His scoff makes me frown and I lift my head. “How is that you’re arrogant in so many ways, while being completely insecure in others?”
“I’m arrogant in my abilities. Making deals, surprising you, taking you places, giving you pleasure.” He hesitates. “It’s the moments in between where I don’t know what, if anything, I have to offer. While you, angel…you’re like this beautiful balm over a scar, erasing the possibility of anything ugly in the world. Grace and honesty and optimism and forgiveness.”
A metal iron is weighing down on my chest. “That’s a beautiful thing to say,” I whisper.
“You can smile while scrubbing a floor. I know, I’ve seen the pictures.” He tilts his head to look down at me, his knuckles making a downward sweep of my jawline. “Meanwhile, I can make a multi-million-dollar trade and…nothing. I feel nothing. Only this…urgency for more.”
“Who do you want more for? You? Or are you trying to prove something?”
He sighs, shifting my hair. “Maybe.”
I study his face closely, noticing the shadows dancing in his blue eyes. “To who?”
The pulse at the base of his neck starts to move faster. “I don’t know.”
I’m trying not to push too hard. If I sensed he wanted to change the subject, I would. No one should have to talk about painful parts of their past until they’re ready. But he does want to share. The way he pulls me close, as if seeking strength, tells me so. “Could it be your parents?” I ask gently. “You said you didn’t have a mother. What about a father?”
His jaw flexes. “I don’t know. I was left as a newborn at a fire station. I’m guessing my mother was young and scared. Or in a dangerous situation.”
“I’m sorry, Jack,” I whisper, my heart fracturing. “But I’m glad she took you somewhere safe. That was brave of her.”
“Yeah. I know that in my head. That she did something brave. But I’m, uh…” He closes his eyes. “This is how I know I’m not a good man, Maisy.”
“I’m angry at her. At the father, too.” He looks down at me, as if uneasy about my reaction. “It’s not fair. I don’t even know the circumstances. But everything that followed, all those years in the system…I don’t know how to stop blaming them.” His voice drops when he adds, “Even hating them sometimes. It’s why I acted the way I did with your mother. I just saw her leaving you, like they left me.”
This is the real Jack. He’s more than a gorgeous man crackling with intelligence. More than his trademark blatant cockiness and intense energy. He is those things, but he’s vulnerable, too. Lonely. “You were never put in foster care?”
“Once. But I don’t remember it. I was an infant. The couple couldn’t get pregnant…until I showed up. After that, they wanted to focus on their own flesh and blood.”
Oh no, Jack. Essentially leaving him abandoned twice. Even if he doesn’t remember, the second incident could be imprinted on his psyche, quiet but malevolent.
“After that, some time passed. I was older and I think it was harder to place me—and I made it clear I wouldn’t play nice anywhere.”
“Of course you didn’t want to try again. I understand.” I lean up and kiss his chin, his mouth, lingering there with soft presses and sips of his lips. “This is why you reacted so badly to your business partner selling those shares. You had all that anger left over, ready to dish out. But anger doesn’t make you a bad person, especially when it had so long to grow, no love to keep it from snowballing. It’s your personal damage, Jack. Everyone has it. Some have it worse than others, but it’s always important. You’re important.”
He starts to say something but can’t seem to find the words, stroking my hair with an unsteady hand instead. “Maisy,” he breathes. “I don’t want to be successful out of spite anymore. It’s exhausting.”
Those words seem to drain him, all on their own and again, my heart protests his pain. “You don’t have to prove anything to anyone. You just have to be Jack. You’re the success, not the million-dollar trades or the social status,” I whisper, moisture pressing against the backs of my eyes. “You must have felt very alone for a long time. I’m sorry.”
“No, don’t you dare be sorry.” Jack pulls me closer, our kiss deepening. “I’m not alone right now,” he says gruffly, nuzzling my nose. “I have everything I need.”
You need love.
I come very close to saying it out loud. I’m not sure what holds me back except for the fact that everything is happening so fast. Can this breathless feeling inside of me really be love? My chest is packed tight, heart racing. Lying here in the waning sun with this man, I’ve never felt more secure. More anchored. And part of that comes from knowing I anchor him, too.