Read KING: Las Vegas Bad Boys Online

Authors: Frankie Love

KING: Las Vegas Bad Boys (21 page)

BOOK: KING: Las Vegas Bad Boys
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“Everything is more than fine. The truth is, I’ve fallen in love with your daughter. Completely. And she’s in love with me.”

Eva lets out a small
humph
, as if completely taken back. Which I’m sure she is.

“Claire, and you. In love?”

“Is it so impossible to believe?”

“Well, sort of. I mean, it’s Claire. She doesn’t do relationships.”

“I want to marry her.”

At this, Eva shakes her head, arms crossed.

“Does Claire know you’re here?” When I shake my head, she adds, “Has she spoken to you about getting married?”

Not wanting to tell her about the fake engagement, I shake my head again. We haven’t spoken about getting married for real. Only the fake double wedding.

“Listen, if you love Claire, and Claire really loves you ... I think you could talk to her about getting married yourself. Not me.”

“I know. Of course I’ll talk to Claire, ask her properly. But the thing is, I came back to Vegas to get some business in order, and I thought coming to you would be a thoughtful gesture. I know how much her family means to her.”

“Right,” Eva says uncomfortably, waving her hands in front of her. “Well, the thing is,
you
can’t marry Claire.”

“Of course I can,” I say defensively. Always so fucking defensive.

I just want someone to say yes, you can. You can do this. Instead it’s always that I’m not bloody enough. I’m tired if it.

“I’m capable of being her husband, if that’s what you’re worried about. I’m going to go get myself a bloody house right after this. I’m closing on an investment property for a proper business. I can take care of her and Sophia. I can do this.”

Eva face softens, and she presses her hand to my arm. “Oh, sweetie, I didn’t say you weren’t
capable
of being her partner. You seem nice, and you certainly seem to love my daughter. Which is everything I want for her.”

“Then why? Why can’t I marry her?”

“Because, Landon. Claire is already married.”

Chapter Twenty-Seven
Landon

H
er words hit
me in in the chest. Hard.

Claire is fucking married?

“What are you talking about?” I ask Claire’s mom, Eva.

We’re standing outside her condo, and she has a pained expression on her face—which is a hell of a lot better than the expression on my face.

I want to hit something. Now.

“I’m sorry. I wish she would have told you, but she doesn’t talk about it. Ever. With me, or with anyone.”

“I don’t understand.” My patience in thin—not with Eva, with the situation. I need more information, faster. “You’re screwing with me, right? This is some American joke?”

“I wish it were, Landon.” She sighs, arms crossed and she shakes her head. “Look, maybe you should come inside, so we can talk properly.”

“I don’t want to intrude.”

“It’s not intruding. Sophia is fine; she’s watching her shows. Come in, have a cup of coffee, and we can talk.’

“My friends are in the car,” I tell her. “Let me tell them I’ll be a while.”

“Oh, for heavens sake, get them in the house. Don’t be rude,” Eva scolds, just like my mother would.

“Yes, ma’am.”

“And don’t ma’am me, either. I’m only forty-nine.”

I run my hands through my hair, trying to breathe. “I should call Claire.”

Eva shrugs. “Maybe. Either way, you’re welcome to come inside, or at least have your friends come inside while you call her.”

I nod, and walk back to the limo. It’s taking everything inside me not to scream.

Jack unrolls the window.

“What’s up man? You look awful. Did she ... not give you the a-ok?”

I shake my head, unable to form the words.

“Dude, you’re freaking me out,” McQueen says. “Get in the car and explain.”

“No,” I say, cracking my knuckles. “You need to come in the apartment. I think I’ll be a while.”

The guys get out of the car, and Jack places his hands on my shoulders. “Seriously, you look like shit. What did she say?”

“Claire’s married.”

“What the fuck?” McQueen shouts.

“Eva is going to explain, she said it might take a while.”

“And you had no idea?” Jack asks.

“None.” I feel my phone vibrating in my pocket. I pull it out and see that it’s Claire. She’s called a few times and texted a bunch. “It’s Claire.”

“You need some fucking answers.” Jack looks unsure.

I want to punch something. “Claire should have told me, right?”

“Fuck, yeah,” McQueen says. “She’s fucking playing you.”

I put my phone on silent, not knowing how I feel about any of this. Especially Claire.

The front door of the condo is slightly ajar and we step inside gingerly. “Hello?” I call out as we walk down the hallway.

“In here,” Eva says. We walk in the living room and see Sophia sitting on a sofa with a tablet in her hands. She looks up.

“Who are you?” she asks. Her lips are heart-shaped just like her mother’s, her green eyes wide and curious.

“We’re friends of your mother’s,” I tell her. “I’m Landon, and this is McQueen and Jack.”

She sets down the tablet and walks over to us. Offering a low curtsy, she says, “Pleased to meet you. I’m Sophia.”

I smile despite the fact that I feel sucker punched. How can Claire be married? Keeping her daughter a secret is one thing ... but a husband?

My heart pounds in my chest, I need to fight—go to McQueen’s gym and beat the shit out of something.

Sophia’s voice brings me back to reality.

“Are you okay, mister?” Sophia asks. “You look mad.”

“I’m good. Thank you, though.” I give her a crooked smile, the best I can manage.

“How do you know my mama?”

This riles me up even more. I know I must look like a deranged fool: nostrils flared, hands clenched. I need some information. Fast.

I need to call Claire. This can’t fucking wait.

“Give me a moment,” I tell them, leaving through the front door.

In the parking lot, I call Claire’s number. I have to hear this story from her.

Not from her mother. Not from her daughter.

From the woman I wanted to be my fucking forever.

“Landon?” she asks. “Where are you? Is everything okay?”

“Don’t. Don’t ask me those sorts of questions. I’m the one who is going to do the talking now.”

“What’s going on?” she asks again, as if she has no clue what she’s been keeping from me.

“Is there anything you’d like to tell me?”

“Actually, yeah, there is. That’s why I’ve been calling and texting. I wanted to talk to you about something really important, but then you just skipped town. Without a word. That’s not how relationships work, Landon.”

“How do they work then, Claire? Tell me exactly how relationships work. Actually, scratch that—tell me how marriages work.”

“Marriages? I don’t know how marriage works. Landon. What is going on?”

“I’m at your mother’s house.”

The call goes quiet. Good. I want her to know this is not some fucking joke. This is my life, my heart. I wanted to give her all of it.

“Why are you there, Landon?” Her voice is soft, scared.

I’m pacing the concrete lot; my shoulders are tense, my mind racing. “I’m here because I came to in Vegas to get us a fucking house. To find a proper job. To ask your mother for your bloody hand in marriage.”

I hear her sharp intake of breath, as if she’s trying to control her tears, but I don’t care about her tears right now. I just want to bloody understand.

“And do you know what your mother told me?” I ask. “When I asked to marry you, her only daughter?”

“Oh, God.”

“What the fuck, Claire? I love you. And you have a husband?” I punch the brick wall in front of me, and my hand comes away bloodied, my heart bruised. But I don’t fucking care. I just need to understand.

“I’m sorry,” she says, but everything sounds like a sharp metallic buzz. My hand is numb, my head on fire. “I wanted to tell you. But it isn’t like it sounds.”

“Then how is it? How is the woman I love married?”

“I haven’t seen him in five years. I never want to see him again. I should have told you, but I’m so ashamed.... And I can’t. I can’t, Landon. I can’t have you hate me for this. I never expected to fall in love. With you. I was going to tell you. You have to believe me.”

“Believe you? Trust you? I’m not sure you know what that means, Claire.”

“Listen, I should have dealt with this, but I don’t even know where he is.”

“That’s a fucking excuse.”

“No, it isn’t. I tried to get a divorce—I got papers made up, signed and everything—but then I just got so scared to face it all again. So I pretended it wasn’t real. Pretended he and I never got married. Pretended he wasn’t Sophia’s father.”

I don’t want to punch something. I want to punch some
one
. The person who did this to her.

“He hurt you? I’ll fucking kill him.”

“Landon, it’s not that easy.”

I snort. “Perfect. You don’t want me to off him. Sounds like maybe you’re secretly in love with him, and that’s why you’ve never cut things off.”

“I swear that’s not it,” she says, her words fierce. “I want a life with you, Landon. You’re all I want.”

“I want to believe you, Claire, but right now I feel like I would be a fool to.”

“Don’t say that.”

“I gotta go.”

“Don’t hang up like this,” she begs.

“I don’t think I have a choice.”

I hang up the phone, completely destroyed by this woman.

* * *

Claire

When he hangs up the phone, I start sobbing.

Like, heaving sobs.

I can’t believe Landon found out this way. That he found out my painful past over the phone.

I can’t believe that Landon doesn’t believe me when I say my husband means nothing. When I say Landon means the world.

Emmy and Tess must hear my crying from down the hall, because they’re in my bedroom in minutes.

“Sweetie, what the heck is happening?” Tess asks, sitting next to me on the bed, rubbing my back as I cry into my hands.

Emmy sits on the other side of me. “Claire, what is going on?”

“I just—I just spoke with .... Landon. And he knows everything.” I can’t control my crying. I don’t even try.

“Everything what?” Emmy asks.

I sit up, shaking my head, tears streaming down my cheeks.

“I’m married. And Landon just found out.”

I press my hand to my forehead, ashamed of my past, of my story. Wanting it to disappear. Not wanting it to be known. It’s safer to hide, to keep secrets. Because then there’s no judgment, no definitions of who you are or what you’re worth.

“What?” Tess asks, gasping. “Claire ... you have a
husband
?”

Emmy looks at me in shock.

I understand their surprise. I’ve never said those words aloud in my entire life. I could never even get myself to utter them to my own mother.

I take a deep breath, knowing I need to tell them the entire story.

“When I was eighteen and living with some friends, I met a man ... he wasn’t from Vegas, but was here for business. We went out a few times, and I don’t know why I ever agreed. From the start he was always rough with me, really demanding. I was too naive to realize it was abuse. I slept with him a lot over the course of a week, and one night we got really drunk, and ended up in a wedding chapel.”

“Oh, shit,” Emmy says.

“Yeah, I know. It was stupid, but he promised to take care of me. He had money and seemed so confident and in charge—that was what drew me to him. He lived and worked in Utah, but after the wedding, he got me an apartment here in Vegas. He’d fly in on the weekend, and I thought that was enough, that he loved me. But he didn’t.

“My mom was totally MIA back then, because she was basically a mess over my dad’s death, so I become really isolated. I didn’t even tell her I had gotten married. I wasn’t working, obviously. I didn’t even have a phone.

“I stopped everything, really, because he always wanted me to be in the apartment in case he decided on a whim to visit. Like, one time I was in the laundry room when he showed up at our place unexpectedly, and when I came back in, carrying a basket of clothes, he beat me up so bad I couldn’t stand for three days.”

“Claire, what are you talking about? Why are you still married to him?” Tess asks.

“It got worse. I was totally isolated. I wasn’t a prisoner; I was just so freaking stupid. He was my husband, right? We’d made a vow, no matter how drunk or dumb it was. Six months passed and he kept coming every weekend, and I thought things would get better—that if I was better in bed, or cooked him better meals, or kept the apartment spotless, then he’d be nice to me. But it didn’t work that way.”

“Then what happened?” Emmy asks. Her face is full of empathy, and that gives me the courage to keep talking.

“I got pregnant. For me, that was the turning point. The moment I took a pregnancy test, I knew I needed to leave. He was so brutal with me—I didn’t want him to hurt the baby.”

“Oh, Claire, that was so brave,” Tess says.

“It wasn’t. If I was brave I’d have left a long time before that. If I was brave, when I finally crawled home to my mothers’ house I would have let her call the police. I would have hired an attorney and gotten a divorce. But I didn’t do any of that.”

“You were terrified,” Emmy says adamantly. “And you wanted to keep Sophia safe. Claire, you
were
being brave.”

I start crying again. “No, I was being weak. And I’ve stayed weak for five years. It was only this year, with kindergarten starting, that I even let Sophia out of my sight. I’ve kept our profile so low because I was always scared he’d come looking for me.”

“Claire, you did nothing wrong,” Emmy says, bringing me tissues. “And Landon understands that. He loves you.”

“I know he loves me, I’m just so ashamed. I wish I were like you, Emmy—a girl who really was tough and strong. A girl who could take on a man like Grotto, and not let it break her.

“But I let my husband hold me captive for five years. I’ve never been brave enough to even go to the court and file the stupid papers. I just pushed the whole thing out of my mind and pretended it wasn’t real. A strong woman wouldn’t have pretended.”

Tess shakes her head. “Claire, maybe you just needed to meet Landon first. Maybe you needed to meet the man who could help you be the best possible version of yourself. And you have. You have him now. And he’s going to help set things straight.” She pulls me into a hug, and lets me sob into her shoulder.

“I don’t know if I have Landon.” I wipe my face with a tissue, my body shaking at the realization. “When I spoke with him, he was so pissed off. He doesn’t trust me.”

“He’ll come around,” Tess says.

I want to believe her … but she doesn’t know about the lies Landon and I built our relationship on.

“And besides Landon, maybe you needed to wait until you had us. Friends
, real friends,
you could confide in,” Emmy says, wrapping her arms around both of us, into a three-way hug.

“I don’t deserve you.”

“Oh, sweetie, you deserve all this and more,” Emmy says as we all sit back up.

“So is next week’s wedding cancelled?” Tess asks once my tears have stopped flowing so forcefully.

BOOK: KING: Las Vegas Bad Boys
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