Authors: Erin McCarthy
Tags: #Romance, #dpg pyscho, #New Adult
“Who’s Brooke?” Devin asked.
“I thought you were all right and tight with her,” one of the guys said. “She’s a foxy lady.”
“It was just a casual thing,” Devin said, waving his hand. “I haven’t talked to her in a month.”
I let out a sigh of relief. It would make me feel like shit if he were still involved with Brooke in any way. That was a line in the sand I wasn’t willing to cross. I didn’t want to be involved with a guy who was involved with someone else. Not that I was sure if Devin and I were actually still involved or not. But I hoped we were, despite my defection.
But the sound I made was too loud. Lizzie swiveled her head and narrowed her eyes at me.
Shit. I knew that look. It was the look foster siblings gave before they blamed something on me. I dropped my foot to the floor, anticipating something bad was about to go down. She was going to call attention to me, embarrass me. Ask if Devin and I were a thing.
But what she did was way worse.
With a smile, she said, “So when is your divorce going to be final, G? You need to negotiate custody of your friends better. Kadence had the balls to ask me to Turks and Caicos with her in a few weeks.”
His divorce wasn’t final? I dug my nails into my thigh, trying to steady myself, waiting for his response. I’d assumed they were divorced legally. Assumed. I realized that while he had frequently referred to Kadence as his ex-wife, he had never said anything about when their divorce was final. I had never researched it, not considering the possibility they were still married.
“Probably never,” he said. “At first she was fighting me about everything. Down to the last fucking satin sheet. But now she’s just refusing to participate in any negotiations.” He raised his wine glass. “Fortunately it’s done in two years whether she agrees to sign anything or not, court mandated. So I propose a toast. To lawyers. And their complete fucking inability to do their job while taking piles of money.”
There was laughter all around.
Except from me. I felt like hyperventilating. I felt sick. Not only was he still married, he had completely failed to mention that he was in the midst of a divorce battle. The pictures delivered to the house suddenly made sense.
Liar. Cheater. Manwhore.
Brooke, the woman here at the party with the gorgeous afro, me. His conquests, lovers, whatever you wanted to call us. Women he fucked.
While still married.
I suddenly realized that I didn’t know jack shit about anything, and I had been nothing but a complete little girl moron, swept away by some fantasy of friendship and love. Without any thought for what anyone would think, I jumped out of my chair and walked across the room, as close to the windows as I could cling. I had to get out. Get away.
“Tiffany!” he called after me.
I wasn’t turning around. Nothing could make me turn back. I couldn’t let those people, those rich and privileged and smug people, see that I was hurt. But at the last second, I veered toward the garage, wanting my bag off the console. I couldn’t leave Gran there. But it was a miscalculation. When I turned, bag in hand, Devin was there, frowning.
“Where are you going?”
He tried to take my arm, but I jerked back. Amelia had followed me, and she barked at him in warning. The look he gave us both was thunderous. As I moved past him, he stepped in my path, so that we knocked shoulders. I dropped the bag, my trembling hands losing their grip. The box tumbled out, and opened slightly, so that ashes spilled onto the hardwood floor.
Oh, my God. With a cry of dismay, I dropped to my knees and righted the box so no more would fall out, and then I tried to shovel what was on the floor back in with my hand.
“What the fuck is that?”
I glanced up at him, vision blurred with tears. “It’s my grandmother’s ashes.”
“What? Holy shit…” He squatted down beside me and tried to help.
Smacking his hand, I snapped. “Leave it alone! Just leave me alone!” I finished collecting what I could and I stood up, hands shaking, clutching the box to my stomach.
Everyone in the room was staring at us. At me. With horror. Disgust. Though there was sympathy from Sapphire.
Appalled, I started walking, faster and faster. By the time I got to the hallway past the kitchen, I started running. Tears were choking me, and for a second I thought I was going to throw up.
In my room, I slammed the door shut behind me and locked it.
I sank to the floor.
Back against the door, I gave in to my emotion and cried for the first time since my grandmother had died.
Mortified that his friends had seen that, devastated that he hadn’t been honest with me, I hoped like hell Devin would deem his duties as host more important than me.
I jumped when a hard knock shook the door. “Tiffany, let me in.”
But I had choices for the first time in my life and I chose to ignore him.
Devin wasn’t a man capable of being ignored though. “Goddammit. Let me in.”
I stayed silent.
“This is my house,” he said. “Open the fucking door.”
Of course he would pull that shit. He was the boss when it was convenient for him. My alleged friend otherwise. It didn’t work that way. I was one or the other. An equal, or not.
“Go away, Devin. Please.” My voice trembled.
But he used the lock pop to unlock the door and he pushed. My face went into my knees and I gave up, scooting out of the way so he could come in. I didn’t want to fight. I was hurting too much. My chest felt like an elephant was sitting on it, and I hated myself for being so stupid as to fall in love with a man that was more than inaccessible to me. He was in orbit as far as I was concerned. I could never reach him.
He slid in and closed the door again. Then he sat down next to me, knees up, arms resting on them. “I’m very sorry about your grandmother,” he said, voice sincere but careful.
“Thank you.” I was still clutching the box. “We weren’t close.”
“I know. But I also know this had to have been really hard for you. Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I don’t know.” But as I hugged the box and my knees, I knew that wasn’t true. “Maybe I didn’t want you to offer to come help me. Maybe I didn’t want you to see where I grew up. Or see how people treat me.” Like I was less of a person than they were. He seemed to hold me in some sort of esteem, or so I’d thought. I didn’t want him to see that I wasn’t worthy of him.
“I would never judge anyone for poverty. I’m not like that. I know I’ve been fortunate. Lucky. If anything, I would have appreciated seeing it because I know your childhood created you. And you’re strong, with a solid moral compass, and some of the most admirable qualities I’ve seen in any human being.”
I didn’t feel strong. I felt like cotton, wispy and soft, easily blown around by the wind.
Devin turned to me, and with his thumb he reached out and wiped a tear off my cheek. “You amaze me,” he said. “Every day I watch you, astonished that you’re so strong, so true, so honest, and every day I fall a little bit more in love with you.”
My heart squeezed and I had a monstrous lump in my throat. Never had I imagined he would say that his feelings for me were so strong as to call them love. I had hoped, wanted desperately for him to care, but love? It seemed too fantastical to be true. I forced myself to ask the question. “Why didn’t you tell me you’re not actually divorced?”
“It wasn’t a secret. I just didn’t really give much thought to it.”
“I find that kind of hard to believe.”
We were almost touching, but not quite. He shrugged. “I told you about Kadence, that she’s difficult. But maybe I still didn’t want you to hear about the shitty details. It’s a terrible ending to a marriage and I know you’d never find yourself in a situation like this.”
His logic didn’t seem sound, but then, maybe mine didn’t to him either. We had a choice- we could choose to be angry with each other or we could move on, and I had never done anger well. It had the power to destroy. So I let it go. “You couldn’t have predicted that she was going to be so miserable about a divorce.” She had cheated on him after all.
“I knew she would do this. She’s used to getting her way.” He gave a sigh of exasperation. “I made you sit there tonight because I wanted to force you to see the world I live in. I wanted to make you see that I’m not worthy of you, because sometimes you look at me like I’m this perfect man, and seriously, Tiff, I don’t deserve that.”
“It’s a persona, Devin. I see the real you.”
“You do, don’t you?” His voice was gruff. “I didn’t think you were ever coming back and that scared the shit out of me. I thought you’d disappeared, that I had fucked it all up by being an asshole when you told me you’re a virgin.” He reached over and pulled one of my hands down, lacing his fingers through mine. “I actually thought maybe you’d made up your grandmother being in the hospital to get away from me, but then I realized immediately that wasn’t something you’d do. You’d never even think of it. But how fucking sad is it that it even occurred to me as a possibility? That’s what marriage to Kadence did to me.”
“She sent those pictures.” It wasn’t a question. It was obvious. I should have pressed earlier, but I hadn’t wanted to annoy him by prying.
“Yeah. I want you to know I never cheated on her. I didn’t date until we were legally separated and we would be divorced already if she had been even remotely reasonable about it. I didn’t take my marriage vows casually.”
I believed him, but I wasn’t sure what that meant. What any of it meant. “What now?” I asked, because I needed to know what he was thinking, what he wanted. I needed to know if I could find the courage to walk back into the family room the next morning and face all his famous friends.
He didn’t reach for me beyond our clasped hands. I wished he would. I craved his reassurance, his touch. His love.
There was no hug, embrace.
Instead, he shocked me with his next words.
“I’m going to sell this house. I never wanted it. And with it liquidated I can throw some money at Kadence to speed up the divorce.”
I barely heard the latter part of what he was saying. “You’re selling the house? I guess you won’t need a housesitter then,” I said, shocked. He wouldn’t need me. I wouldn’t have a job or a place to live.
Or the ability to see him every day, bare chested, coffee mug in his hand, smiling a good morning to me. I wouldn’t get to walk along the coast with him, Amelia running ahead of us. Or have him patiently teach me how to take a left turn in his car. I wouldn’t have him.
“No. I won’t need a housesitter. Maybe you can go to school,” he said, like it didn’t particularly matter to him one way or the other. “Become a nurse like you planned.”
“Where am I supposed to live?” I asked, afraid to look at him, afraid he’d see my raw emotion, my vulnerability, my hurt. He didn’t want me to live with him any more. I was too young. Too virginal. It hurt deep inside, like a deep lacerated wound, pulsing, aching with each heartbeat, blood pumping out in a hot, agonizing gush. It was worse than any slap because the pain wasn’t going to subside. Not a brief sting that would fade. It was going to keep going on and on, each day that I was gone from him.
“Well, where do you want to live? You can go to college anywhere you want, right? Haven’t you always wanted to see Florida?”
But I shook my head, violently. “No. That’s too far away.” I couldn’t imagine being that far from Maine and everyone I loved. From him.
“Too far from what?” He was stroking my hand now softly, slowly.
“From home. From you.” I sounded miserable. I felt miserable. I didn’t even care if my words sounded pathetic or juvenile. The thought of being hundreds of miles away from Devin, never seeing him ever again, tormented me.
“Good. Because I don’t really love Florida. I would have bought a condo there if you wanted me to, but it’s not my first choice.”
I swiveled to look at him. “What are you talking about?”
“I’m not going to let you go to Florida without me.” He gave me a sly smile. “What would be the point in that?”
“Don’t tease me,” I said in warning, even as hope sprang up eager and obnoxious. “It’s cruel.”
Devin leaned over and kissed me. “I’m not teasing you. Not now. Not about this. Tiffany, all I want is to be with you, because I love you. Do you realize that?” His gaze burned into mine. “I
you. In a way that is so huge and overwhelming, I am not even exactly sure what to do with it.”
I stared at him in wonderment. Devin loved me. He felt it, too, that overwhelming and all-consuming love that had been growing and growing between us. It was the kind of emotion that never left me. It went everywhere I was, infiltrated every thought, sat in my chest like a helium balloon.
My throat felt tight. “I love you too.”
He gripped my hand harder, his expression intense, searching. “I’m really glad to hear that. Say it again.”
With a sigh, I cupped his cheek, slid my hand back into his hair. “I love you,” I said, the tremor gone from my voice. I spoke with confidence, and deep, boundless emotion. There was no need to pretend it was only friendship or hide from my feelings. “I have never been happier than I have been here, with you.”
“I came here to run away,” he murmured. “It was meant to be both an escape and a punishment and instead I found you.”
Setting the box down carefully, I shifted closer to him. “I came here to be alone. But I’m so glad I’m not.”
“I’ve lived selfishly, but you make me better.” He took my face between his hands. “You’re so sweet, do you know that? I look at you and I think how is it that you found your way here, to me, in the middle of nowhere Maine, when I live in a city with eight million people. I had no idea that first night that you would burrow into my heart and make a home there.” He smiled. “Like a chipmunk. That’s what you are.”
I laughed softly. “Wow. Thanks.”
“Chipmunks are adorable and so are you.”
I couldn’t be annoyed with the comparison. I knew I wasn’t traditionally beautiful, but that he saw anything adorable in me thrilled me. I could see he meant it. He looked besotted, a mirror to my own image.