Read It Starts With Us (It Ends with Us #2) Online
Authors: Colleen Hoover
Allysa has the bright idea of just setting them on the floor on a layer of trash bags, so it’ll be an easy cleanup. Emmy and her cousin, Rylee, are both covered in cake now.
Emmy has no idea what’s going on, but she’s enjoying herself. We ended up having a small party for her here at Allysa’s. My mother is here, Ryle’s parents, Marshall, and Allysa.
Ryle is also here, but he’s about to leave. He snaps a couple of photos on his phone before giving both the girls a quick kiss goodbye.
I heard him telling Marshall it’s been a busy day with work, but he made the party. I was happy he made it in time for presents, and he stayed until the cake was mostly demolished. I know it’ll mean something to Emmy someday when she sees the pictures.
We haven’t spoken the entire time he’s been here. We’ve circled around each other, pretending everything is fine in front of everyone, but Ryle is anything but fine. I can feel the tension radiating from him while standing across the room. Being ignored by him is better than being blamed by him, though. I’d take the silent treatment over the alternative any day.
Unfortunately, I don’t get the silent treatment for long.
Ryle is making eye contact with me for the first time today. I made the mistake of standing alone, so he takes this as an opportunity to walk over and stand beside me. I stiffen, not wanting to do this right now. We haven’t spoken since he insulted me while walking out of my flower shop last week. I know we need to have a conversation, but our daughter’s birthday party is not the time or place.
Ryle slips his hands into his pockets. He tucks his chin against his chest and stares at the floor. “What did your lawyer say?”
Anger climbs up my chest. I side-eye him and give my head a shake. “We aren’t having this conversation right now.”
It’s not really a matter of when, but
? Because I’m not going to discuss anything while we’re alone ever again. He’s proven to me that I’m not safe when I’m alone with him, so that privilege is over.
“I’ll text you,” I say, and then I walk away, leaving Ryle standing alone. My mother is holding Emmy, wiping cake off her face and hands, so I head in their direction, but Allysa pulls me aside before I reach them.
“Let’s chat,” she says. I follow her to her bedroom, where she sits on her bed.
She only brings me to her bedroom when she wants to confront me about something, and her timing is always impeccably intuitive. I roll my eyes as soon as I walk into her room, and then I sit down on her bed. “What do you want to know?” It’s been a couple of weeks since we’ve caught up alone. There’s a lot she could be wondering about my life. It’s been pretty eventful here lately.
Allysa falls back onto the bed. “Things between you and Ryle feel kind of off today.”
“I notice everything. Are you okay?”
I think long and hard about that question.
Are you okay?
I used to hide from that question because I wasn’t okay. Even months after Emerson’s birth, when someone would ask me that, I would put on a smile while I shriveled up inside.
This is the first time I’m not lying when I say, “Yes. I’m okay.”
Allysa regards me silently. There’s a reassurance in her expression, like she might even believe me this time. She grabs my hand and pulls me until I’m lying on the bed next to her. She locks our arms at the elbows, and we just stare up at the ceiling, enjoying a moment of silence in a house full of people.
I’m glad I still have Allysa. That would have been the most heartbreaking thing of all to have to lose in my divorce. I’m grateful she’s so full of forgiveness and positivity.
I wish I could say the same for her brother. Sometimes I feel like Ryle has a monster inside him that is on a constant search to be offended. His dark side feeds off drama, and if no one gives him any, he makes it up. But I can’t be a player in his game anymore. I know my intentions were pure when I was married to Ryle, no matter how much Ryle wanted his delusions to be true so they could excuse his behavior.
“How are things with Adonis?”
I laugh. “You mean Atlas?”
“I said what I said. Adonis, the beautiful Greek god you’re in love with.”
I laugh again. “Wasn’t Adonis a product of incest?”
Allysa shoves me. “Stop deflecting. How are things going?”
I roll onto my stomach and lift up on my elbow. “Good, if we’d ever get to spend time together. His restaurant doesn’t open until my flower shop closes. We haven’t even spent an entire night with each other yet.”
“What’s Atlas doing right now? Working?”
“You should see if he can take off early and I’ll keep Emerson tonight. We don’t have plans tomorrow; you could come get her whenever.”
My eyes widen at her offer. “For real?”
Allysa climbs off the bed. “Rylee loves it when she’s here. Go spend the night with your Adonis.”
I didn’t text Atlas to let him know I was on my way to Corrigan’s. He told me he’d be working there tonight, and I thought it might be fun to surprise him, but when I walk through the doors that lead to the kitchen, I’m amazed at how busy it is. No one even hears me enter, so I look around until I spot him.
Atlas is inspecting each plate as they’re given to him to place on trays, then the waitstaff quickly disappear with the food through the double doors. This place is more upscale than Bib’s, and I thought Bib’s was upscale. All the waiters are dressed in formal attire. Atlas is in a white chef’s coat that matches a couple of the others in the kitchen.
They’ve got such a groove going, I question whether I
should have shown up. I feel like I’ll be in the way if I walk over to him, but I suddenly feel very awkward that I just showed up without letting him know.
I recognize Darin as soon as he spots me. He smiles and nods his head, then gets Atlas’s attention. He motions toward me, and when Atlas turns around and sees me in his kitchen, his eyes light up. But only momentarily. The fact that I’m here instantly changes his excitement to concern. He makes a beeline for me, sidestepping around a waiter who is walking back into the kitchen with an empty tray.
“Hey. Everything okay?”
“It’s fine. Allysa decided to keep Emmy for the night, so I thought I’d stop by.”
Atlas smiles hopefully. “Is she keeping her for the whole night?” There’s a flicker of flirtation in his eyes.
“Hot behind!” someone yells from behind me.
My eyes widen just as Atlas pulls us out of the way of a waiter carrying a tray of food.
“Kitchen slang,” he says. “Means you’re in the way of hot food.”
Atlas laughs, and then looks over his shoulder at all the plates he’s falling behind on. “Give me about twenty minutes to get us caught up?”
“Of course. I didn’t come here to ask you to leave early. I thought I could watch you work for a while; it’s kind of fun.”
Atlas points to a metal counter. “Sit there. It’s the best view, and you won’t get knocked over. Gets pretty busy back here. Be done soon.” He lifts my chin and bends to kiss me,
then he backs away and returns to what he was doing before I walked in.
I take a seat on the counter and pull up my legs, crossing them so that I’m completely out of the way. I notice a few of the employees stealing glances at me, which makes me somewhat uncomfortable. Out of all the people back here right now, I’ve only met Darin, so I have no idea who any of them are. I do wonder what they’re thinking of the random girl Atlas just kissed who is now watching them work.
I don’t know if Atlas normally brings women around, but I get the feeling he doesn’t. Everyone is looking at me like this is an anomaly.
Darin comes over to greet me as soon as he gets a chance. He gives me a quick hug and says, “Good to see you again, Lily. You still hustling unassuming poker players?”
I laugh. “Not for a while now. Do you guys still have your poker nights?”
He shakes his head. “Nah, we’re too busy now that Atlas has both restaurants. It was difficult finding a night we could all meet up.”
“That’s a shame. Are you working here now?”
“Not officially. Atlas wanted to see how I work with the menu here; he’s thinking of promoting me to head chef.” He leans in and smiles. “He said he wants more time off. I guess now I know why.” Darin tosses a rag over his shoulder. “It was good seeing you. Sounds like you’ll be around more often.” He winks before walking away.
Knowing Atlas is making an effort to spend less time at work makes my stomach swirl with happiness.
I spend the next fifteen minutes silently watching Atlas
work. Every now and then he’ll glance at me and give me a warm smile, but the rest of the time, he’s focused on his job. His intensity and confidence are mesmerizing.
No one seems intimidated by him, but everyone appears to want his opinion. He’s constantly being asked questions, and he responds to each one of them with patience. In between those moments of teaching, there’s a lot of yelling. Not the kind of yelling I’d expect to find in a kitchen, but people calling out food orders and cooks yelling their acknowledgments. It’s loud and busy, but the vibe is a rush.
It’s honestly not at all what I expected to find. I thought I’d see a whole new side to Atlas—one where he barked orders with anger and behaved like all the chefs I’ve seen on television. But, thankfully, that’s not at all what is happening in this kitchen.
After a thrilling half an hour goes by, Atlas finally steps away from his station. He washes his hands before walking over to me. I get this knot of excitement in my stomach when he leans forward and presses his mouth to mine, like he doesn’t care that all his staff can see us.
“Sorry that took so long,” he says.
“I enjoyed it. It was different than I expected.”
“I thought all chefs were assholes and screamed at their staff.”
He laughs. “No assholes in this kitchen. Sorry to disappoint.” He uncrosses my legs so he can stand between them. “Guess what?”
“Josh is staying over at Theo’s tonight.”
I can’t hold back my grin. “What a wonderful coincidence.”
Atlas’s eyes sweep over me, and then he leans his head against mine, pressing his lips lightly against my ear. “Your place or mine?”
“Yours. I want to be in a bed that smells like you.”
He nips at my ear, sending chills down my neck. Then he takes my hands and helps me down from the counter. He gives his attention to someone passing by. “Hey, can you take over the pass?”
The guy says, “You bet.”
Atlas looks back at me and says, “Meet you at my house.”
I stopped by my apartment before going to his restaurant to pack a bag just in case this was a possibility, so I get to his place before he does. While I wait for Atlas, I use the time in my car to check in with Allysa.
Did she fall asleep okay?
Just fine. How’s your night going?
Just fine. ;)
Have fun. I expect a full report.
Atlas’s headlights shine through my car as he pulls into his driveway. I’m still gathering my things when he opens my car door. As soon as I climb out of the car, Atlas dips an impatient hand into my hair and kisses me. It’s the kind of kiss that screams
I’ve missed kissing you
When he pulls back, he studies my face with a gentle smile. “I liked you watching me in the kitchen tonight.”
A shiver passes over me. “I like watching you.” I can’t say
it without grinning. I grab my bag from the passenger seat, and Atlas takes it from me and hoists it over his shoulder. I follow him through the garage. He still has moving boxes piled up along one wall. There’s a weight bench in pieces on the floor next to the unpacked boxes. There are two full baskets of laundry sitting in front of a washer and dryer.
Seeing a little bit of disarray in his garage is comforting. I was beginning to think he was too good to be true, but Atlas Corrigan is behind on life and behind on laundry like the rest of us.
He unlocks his house and holds the door open for me. It’s smaller than his last one, but it’s more him. And it’s not a cut-and-paste brick building in a subdivision of similar-looking homes. The houses in this neighborhood have character. Each one is vastly different, from the pink two-story house on the corner to the modern boxy glass one at the other end of the street.
Atlas’s house is a bungalow-style home nestled in between two larger homes. When I was here last time, I noted that he somehow got the biggest backyard of the three.
Plenty of room for a garden someday…
Atlas enters his security code into his keypad. “It’s nine five nine five,” he says. “If you ever need in.”
“Nine five nine five,” I repeat, noting it’s the same number combination as his phone. He’s a man of commitment. I like it.
His security code isn’t a key to his house, but it feels almost as significant. He places my bag on his couch and then flips on the living room light. My back is to the wall, and I’m standing out of the way, watching him. It’s a good thing he
informed me that he liked it when I was watching him at work, because watching Atlas is my favorite pastime. I could live my life as a fly on his wall and be content. “What’s your routine when you get home at night?”
Atlas tilts his head. “What do you mean?”
I gesture at the room. “What do you do when you get home at night? Pretend I’m not here.”
He regards me silently. Then he walks toward me, pausing right in front of me. He presses a hand onto the wall beside my head and leans in. “Well,” he whispers. “First, I take off my shoes.”
I hear one of his shoes being kicked off, then the other. He’s suddenly an inch lower and even closer to my mouth. He feathers his lips lightly across mine, sending fireworks popping beneath my skin. “Then…” He kisses the corner of my mouth. “I take a shower.” He pushes off the wall and backs away, his eyes locked on mine in a dare.
He disappears into his bedroom.
I’m inhaling a steadying breath when I hear his shower start running. I slip off my shoes and leave them next to his, then I follow the path he took down the hallway. I gently push open the half-closed door and take in his bedroom in person for the first time. I’ve seen it in our video chats, but I didn’t come in here when I came to his house the first time. I recognize his black headboard and the denim-blue accent wall behind it, but the rest of his bedroom is new to me. I pass over everything in search of the bathroom door.