“She said she was your lover,” I finally broke the silence. I’d tried to keep that in, but I just couldn’t.
He sighed and stroked a hand over my hair. “She’s a good liar. It’s what makes her great at her job. We’re not sleeping together.”
“Since when?” Another thing I couldn’t keep in.
“Since I was fifteen, and only then to mark her as mine to keep her safe from the other people we were working with. They were scared of me, and her being mine made her off-limits.”
“So why is she so interested in me?”
“Hell if I know. If I had to guess, I’d say it’s some leftover jealousy from the past. But I’ll tell you one thing—she won’t bother you again.”
I took a deep breath, trying to hold in yet another question. Tried and failed. “Have you been with . . . anyone else, since you’ve been with me?”
He stiffened up, but didn’t hesitate. “No.” Long pause. “I won’t be asking you the same question.” His voice was pained. “I don’t want to know.”
I was gearing up to answer him, to set him straight when he continued, “Once I was tortured by a particularly sick motherfucker. He sliced me to ribbons with a rusty, dull knife. When I heard about you and your other man, heard he’d spent the night here, it hurt worse than that. Just so you know.”
I started trembling. “Heath,” my voice caught on his name. “He didn’t—we haven’t, err, I didn’t have sex with him. He spent the night, but he slept on the couch, okay? I haven’t done more than kiss him.”
“I don’t understand. So why did he spend the night?”
“Hell if I know. He wanted to. But he never even made a move. We were taking it slow.”
I barely got the last word out before he was kissing me.
I woke alone in my bed.
I sat up.
I was instantly angry.
Not angry. Furious at him, for so many complicated reasons, but one of them, the most important one, was terribly simple.
He’d left. I’d wanted him to stay, and regardless of why, he had not stayed. He had left. It was that uncomplicated and that devastating.
And I had not a clue where we stood. He’d finally let me sleep after that last round of sex, and I’d passed out cold, but what we’d needed to do was talk.
How could he do that?
Back for only half a night, but he’d done his fair share of damage.
Messing up my head.
Messing up my heart.
Then leaving without a goodbye?
I couldn’t have it. I couldn’t do this again. Not for sex or for love.
But what did I think we could’ve settled?
He couldn’t offer me anything. I’d gathered enough about the current job he was on to understand that much, at least.
Not even an occasional something, which sadly I’d have taken.
All he could give me was a big fat maybe, just maybe someday, and I needed more than that, plain and simple.
I had myself worked up into a temper when I heard the front door opening.
I threw on my robe and charged through the house.
And there was Heath, locking the door behind him with one hand, a bouquet of pink lilies in the other.
My temper left me in one long, dreamy sigh.
“I forgot last night,” he explained, holding up the flowers. “But then I remembered this morning. I noticed that your boys brought you different kinds, so I thought I’d surprise you.”
I smiled, moving to take them from him. “It’s true, I like variety.”
“Hopefully you’re only talking about flowers when you say that.”
I laughed, shooting him a look over my shoulder. “You tell jokes now? Surely that’s a sign of the apocalypse?”
I was rewarded with his version of a fond smile.
I put the lilies in a vase and was just setting them on my entryway table when his voice made my breath catch in my chest.
“If you tell me to stay away, I’ll do it. Otherwise . . . I’ll never leave you alone, never let you move on.
I shut my eyes tight. “Stay away.”
“Do you mean it?”
I stood my ground, barely.
I let out a deep, stuttering breath and gave him a very soft, tremulous, “Yes. I need to move on, and I’ll never move on if we keep doing this. Not if you can’t give me something real, something lasting.”
“I’ve always given you something real. This is real. And for what it’s worth, it’ll last as long as I live.”
Powerful emotion made my voice thick. I couldn’t quite believe what he was saying to me. “Then why have we never so much as talked about the future?”
“I don’t have a future, Lourdes. But if I did . . . if I did, it would be yours. I’d give it you in a heartbeat. I wish I could give you everything you deserve.”
“Will you explain that to me? Why don’t you have a future?”
“They’re not my secrets to tell.”
“This is our entire problem. If you could just stop being cryptic for one second and tell me what is going on.”
His fists clenched. “I’m doing my level-best here,” he enunciated slowly.
“Well, I need you to do better. If you’re asking me to do what I think you are, to wait for you, for some indeterminate amount of time, then I need at least some answers.”
His eyes closed, jaw clenched in defeat, and I thought we were dead in the water.
But then he proved me wrong about him, yet again. “Ask me a question, and I’ll try my best to answer it, okay?
I didn’t know whether I was relieved or appalled. What would I be willing to do for a Heath that was actually upfront with me about his life?
It boggled the mind.
I started with the most important question. “Why don’t you have a future?
“I’m on an assignment right now that is very dangerous. I’ve already taken six bullets for it over two different occasions and lost several men. I’m protecting a witness, a very important one, one that is in a great deal of danger. I can’t discuss the details of the case, but it is high stakes, and there is no other option but for me to see it through to the end.”
“Can’t you just go into hiding for a while?”
“We have, and we do, but this witness has powerful enemies working in the government, and my team’s already been compromised twice. And besides that, at some point my witness will be taking the stand in a very public trial. We can’t hide for that part.”
“I got the impression your sister is right in the middle of this mess. How is she involved?”
His mouth turned down into a frown that made me want to burst into tears, it was so full of pain. “She’s the witness.”
Oh God. There really was no way out for him.
“I’ll fight to the end to protect her, to stay alive myself,” he continued. “But our odds are shit poor. Impossible to sugar coat it. And even if somehow we succeed, and I keep Iris alive long enough to do the job she has to do, I still have years of work ahead of me before I can ever sleep easy at night.”
“So,” I said slowly, “if we’re optimistic and things work out in your favor, we’re talking years you’re asking me to wait?”
“It’s a very good possibility. I’m sorry. I wish I could give you a better answer.”
I wished he could too.
“Tell me something sweet, Heath,” I uttered softly.
“I know I’m not being fair to you here. I know I should let you move on. But I can’t. I’ll do anything to be with you for as much time as I can. Anything you ask.”
I soaked that up. I don’t know how he did it, but he always managed to say the thing that made it worth me sticking around, no matter how little he had to offer.
“Okay,” I finally said, even while my mind still raked over all of the things I’d learned. “I’ll wait for you. As long as you’re faithful. And as long as you try your damned hardest to get back to me as soon, and as often, as you can.”
He closed the few feet of ground that separated us, his hands going into my hair. He leaned down, touching our foreheads.
“Thank you. Now I need you to do something for me.”
“Hmm?” I asked, eyes closed, soaking up his tender touch.
“Dump that fucker you’ve been seeing. Call him right now and tell him it’s over. And also, we both know I’m paranoid, but deal with him carefully in the future. Don’t be alone with him again. My people couldn’t find out much about him, aside from the basics, and they got nothing solid on his history. I don’t like that. I’ve never met a man with no past at all.”
“Okay, I’ll do it right after you leave.” I told him, feeling a little disappointed in myself that it didn’t make me more sad to just be letting Kevin go that easy.