I don’t smile at this. There’s no victory in anything that has her pulling away. “You said you weren’t up late talking to your fiancé. Does that mean he took the news about our marriage well?”

She shoots a look at me over her shoulder. “We don’t have a marriage. We have a piece of paper.”

I grit my teeth. “And what did Julian think about your piece of paper?”

“I haven’t told him yet.”

I’m torn between offering to pick up the phone and deliver the news myself and doing a little fist pump. At the bar, she pretended our vows meant nothing to her, that it was little more than a pesky technicality she was going to have to pay a lawyer to deal with. But this . . . If she didn’t tell Julian yet, could it be she’s still trying to decide what to do? “He deserves to know sooner rather than later.”

“Yeah, I can’t imagine what it must be like to have something like that kept from you.” She treats me to another over-the-shoulder frown before giving me her back again. “I’ll tell him.”

“Does he make you happy? Will a life with him be a dream come true?”

She squeezes her temples. “In some ways, yes.”

I didn’t realize I was standing on a cliff until she shoved me over the edge with those words. It’s going to take more than that to get me to give up. “But in other ways . . .?”

She finally turns around and leans against the window. “What do you want from me, Marston?” Her eyes are so sad. I see more than exhaustion there. I see loneliness—and why the hell is she marrying this guy if he leaves her feeling like that?

“Why did you leave that morning? In Vegas?”

“I told you. I didn’t know we’d gotten married. I saw the ring and thought we were engaged.”

I flinch and shake my head. “What made you decide to disregard that decision? What made you walk out the door without saying goodbye?”

She opens her mouth, but before she can manage a response, her eyes well with tears and a sob bursts from her lips.

“Fuck. I’m sorry.” Pulling her into my arms is instinctive. It’s not a choice but a need, like taking my next breath. The sight of her tears wrecks me, but feeling like I’m the cause breaks my heart.

Her sobs are quiet. Her whole body shakes against mine, and my shirt goes damp with tears. I hold her through them like I always did. I hold her until the shaking subsides and her breathing evens out. I hold her until she pulls away, and when she does, I feel the loss in my chest.

“What do we do now? Do we need lawyers, or can we just find a judge and explain this was all a mistake?”

I wonder if she knows how much that word hurts. Mistake. I cup her jaw in one hand and tilt her face up to mine. How can she be even more beautiful to me? We’ve only been apart six months this time, but her blue eyes are more vivid than I remember, her lips fuller. “There was no mistake. You might not remember our wedding, but you wanted to do it. We’re meant to be together, Brinley, and I’m here to remind you of that.”

Typically, I pride myself on thinking through every action and reaction, but there’s none of that with Brinley. Only instinct and impulse and need. I don’t think as I lower my mouth to hers again. I don’t question my next move or how a kiss right now will work for or against me.

My lips touch hers, and the only reason I don’t kiss her longer and deeper, the only reason I end it before pouring all of my heartache into the kiss, is because she’s shaking.

She brings her fingers to her lips. “You can’t just kiss me, Marston. I’m marrying someone else.”

I lift her left hand, studying the ring again. I want to pull Julian’s off and replace it with mine. But I won’t. That’s a decision she needs to make. And I won’t slide mine on next to his, because that’s not the way this works. Every decision needs to be hers—taking off his ring, putting on mine. So I pull the ring we picked out together from my pocket and tuck it into the palm of her hand, closing her fingers around it. “The night we met, I told you that if you were ever mine, I wouldn’t let you go without a fight. I meant it. Nothing’s changed.”

“You didn’t even know me when you made that promise.”

I tuck an errant lock of hair behind her ear. “Sometimes I think I knew you better after five minutes than anyone at that party did. You were . . .” I shake my head, looking for the word.


Tags: Lexi Ryan Orchid Valley Romance
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