Authors: Deborah Bladon
New York Times & USA Today Bestselling Author
First Original Edition, October 2014
Copyright © 2014 by Deborah Bladon
Cover Design by
Wolf & Eagle Media
This book is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is entirely coincidental. Names, characters, businesses, organizations, places, events and situations either are the product of the author's imagination or are used factiously.
All rights reserved. No parts of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any means without written consent from the author.
The GONE Series
His arms are around me before I have time to react. I'd imagined this moment the way women do when their hearts crave to be with the man they once loved. In my dreams, Parker would race through the lobby of my building in New York City, sprint up the stairs and pour his heart out to me the second I opened my apartment door. He'd fall to his knees and tell me that life without me has no meaning and is empty. Now, feeling Parker's strong arms circling my waist, all I feel is numb.
"Kayla." I can sense the smile in his voice, even though his face is buried in my hair. "I can't believe you're here."
"Don't." I push against him, mustering any lingering strength I can find. "Let me go."
"What are you doing here?" His lips press against my temple. "Did you miss me?"
"I heard what you said." I try again, in vain, to shove him away. "I heard you and Ben talking."
He pulls back so harshly I almost lose my footing. "You heard us?"
I turn towards Ben. His face is void of any expression. I can't tell if he's surprised to see me or not. There's no way he could have known that I'd be listening in on his conversation with Parker. He didn't expect me to be here. He thought I was tucked away quietly in New York, planning my best friend's wedding to his brother.
"I can explain what you heard." Parker's hand is on my chin, trying to turn my face towards his. His voice is the same as it's always been, joyous and oblivious to the tribulations that dot other people's lives. Even now, weeks after he'd broken my heart and moments after he inadvertently confessed to taking money from Ben in exchange for avoiding me, he's positive. His tone is a clear indicator that he still believes that everything will be fine, as long as he sees it through rose colored glasses. He expects the pieces of his life to fall into place, regardless of how much pain he causes others to get there.
I can't look at him. I won't make eye contact with him. How is it even possible that these two know each other? "You took his money."
He nods loosely before his eyes flash to Ben and then back to me. "I want you to marry me."
Whoever said that timing is everything couldn't have known how ironic the words can be. "Marry you?" I mimic them back just to hear how utterly ridiculous they sound coming from my own mouth.
"I love you so much. I realize that now." Parker's voice is breaking as he tilts his chin down towards my palm. "I've missed you."
"Shut up," I bark at him, not just because I can't absorb what he's telling me, but also because I feel my stomach lurching with each of his romantic pronouncements. I don't want Parker to love me. I don't want him to tell me he wants to marry me. I wanted that. I ached for that but it's different now.
I twist my head back around to look at Ben. "You gave him money to stay away from me?"
"Kayla." His voice is low, calm and controlled. "We need to go somewhere alone. I need to talk to you in private without Parker."
"No." I shake my head. "We're not going anywhere. You're going to tell me what's going on right here. I want to know right now."
"Baby, you came back to be with me, didn't you?" Parker ignores everything I just said to Ben. "You still love me, right?"
"No." I take a heavy step away from him. "I came here to talk to Ben."
"Ben?" His hand shoots past me, his index finger flying in Ben's direction. "You came to our apartment to talk to Ben?"
"I came to Boston to talk to him," I correct. "I'm not here because of you."
"You're in our apartment, Kayla." There's no disguising the confusion in his tone. "Why are you in our apartment?"
My mind skips back trying to retrace its path. How did I end up here? Why am I standing in the same apartment I shared with Parker mere weeks ago, holding an engagement ring? I pull my hand over my face, glancing down at the small box in my other palm. "I wanted my damage deposit back."
"You what?" His eyes narrow. "You're in our apartment because of the damage deposit?"
It's such a meaningless point right now. I had no idea when I used my key to get back into the home I shared with Parker that my life would splinter into a million pieces inside these walls. "The super said you moved out so I came to clear out your things."
His eyes float down to the box. "You found the engagement ring when you were going through my things?"
I nod, my hand extending out to him. "Take it back. I don't want it."
His blue eyes darken. They look the same as they did the night he left me. "It's your ring, Kayla. It's the one you wanted. I bought it for you."
"No," I whisper so softly that I'm not sure I even said the word. "I don't want it."
He rubs his hands over his face. "I made a mistake when I walked out. I didn't realize how much I loved you then. Give me another chance."
I push the ring into his hand. "I don't want this. I don't want you."
Parker heaves a sigh before the box slips from his hand and drops to the floor. "You can't mean that, baby. You've loved me forever. "
I have. He's right. It felt like he was my forever when I boarded that plane that took me to my new life in New York City a few weeks ago. When Ben had sat down next to me everything changed. The entire course of my life's path had shifted and I'd been swept up in something unfamiliar and exciting. Now, I can't tell if any of that was real or not.
"When did you plan this?" I twist quickly on my heel and face Ben. I take a deep breath, trying to halt a sob. "How long have you known Parker?"
"Forget about him." Parker's breath breezes over my neck as his hands grip my shoulders. "I can explain everything to you."
He can't. He thinks he can but there's no way in hell that Parker can make sense of this riddle that I'm standing in the middle of. "When did you meet Parker? Did you pay him to break up with me, Ben?"
Ben heaves a deep sigh. "I wouldn't do that. I didn't do that. It's not what you think."
"Tell me what it is," I pause long enough to pull myself away from Parker's grasp. "Tell me how this isn't about you paying my boyfriend to stay away from me."
He crosses his arms over his chest. "I'm not discussing this in front of Parker."
"Why not?" I throw the words at him. "You had no trouble discussing me with him a few minutes ago. I heard it all. You're using me to get back in your brother's life."
He shakes his head slightly. "No. I'm not using you to get back Noah."
I feel so deflated. I know what I heard. Ben has been following me. Every time I've met with Noah he was there, somewhere in the background lurking behind the veil of a lie about being busy so he could spy on his brother and me. I need to talk to Noah. I need to tell him that he was right about his brother all along. Ben is manipulative and calculating. He paid Parker to stay away from me and he told him he could have me back as soon as Noah embraced him as family again.
"Kayla." Parker's in front of me now, concern washing over his face. "Please talk to me. Please."
"When did this start?" I look past him to Ben trying to keep my lower lip from trembling. "Tell me when you met Parker."
Ben's gaze narrows on my face as his hand flies to my forearm, pulling it into his grasp. "I need to talk to you in private, Kayla. There are things you need to know."
"Baby, please listen to me." Parker reaches for my other arm, grabbing tightly to my elbow. "I made a mistake when I left you. Let me make it up to you now."
I'm being pulled apart by the two men who have been at the center of my life for the past few months. I can literally feel the energy pouring off each of them. "I just want answers. Someone needs to tell me now what the hell is going on."
"Once Ben leaves I'll explain this all to you." Parker's hand tightens. "This is about us."
It stopped being about us when I went to that hotel room with Ben. "No. This isn't about us, Parker. It's more than that."
"No, it's not." He pulls me towards him. "I fucked up when I left you. I see that now. Let me show you how much I love you."
My eyes flit over Ben's stoic face before they settle on Parker's. "Unless you tell me what the hell is going on between you and Ben, I'm walking out of here."
"I need time alone with her." Parker looks at Ben. "She came here. I didn't ask her to."
I feel my shoulders slump forward with the words. I've become a third party in their game of deceit. Parker's talking about me as if I'm not in the room. Slow tears slide down my cheeks. "Don't do that. Please don't talk about me like I'm not here."
"It's up to Kayla," Ben says with a low growl. "She needs answers. She wants honest answers, Parker. If she wants them from you, so be it."
I follow the line of Parker's sight to Ben's face. He's giving up that easily? He's going to actually walk away and let Parker be my guide through the maze of confusion I'm lost in? That action alone speaks volumes to me.
"I want them from anyone who can give them to me," I interject before Parker has a chance to speak. I push my hand into my lips to quiet the sobs.
"I'm leaving. I don't want you more upset." Ben's hand slides from my forearm to my shoulder. "There are two sides to this, Kayla. I want to explain my side. I'm here until tomorrow for the conference."
"The conference?" I parrot back as I pull free of Parker. I walk towards the door of the apartment with every hope that my knees won't buckle beneath the weight of my emotions. "There is no conference. I was at the hotel you said you'd be at and there was nothing. No one knew about any conference." The righteous indignation in my tone is unmistakable. I admit I'm taking pleasure in pushing Ben into a corner with his lies.
"It's informal. I'm meeting several other doctors in that hotel. You can find me there until five today. It's on the sixth floor in room nineteen." His voice doesn't waver as he offers the pointed details. "After that, I'll be at my condo for the night. I'll text you the address."
"I already have it," I snap back through a muted cry as I turn to face him.
"I'll be waiting to hear from you." His voice is soft as his lips graze my ear. "I know this looks bad, Kayla, but everything I've done is for you."
I swipe at a wayward tear falling down my cheek. This is all so much. Trying to absorb everything that's happened in the last thirty minutes is impossible. "Everything you've done is so you could get Noah back into your life."
"No," he says tightly as he reaches for the doorknob. "This is not about Noah. All I care about is you."
"I'm going to tell him." I glance over my shoulder to where Parker is still standing a few feet away from us. I suddenly wonder how much he knows about the fractured relationship between Ben and his brother. "I'm here in Boston because Noah asked me to talk to you. I have to tell him about this."
His face is impassive as he leans down to brush his lips over my forehead. "Do what you need to do, Kayla. I want you to come out of this in one piece. Do whatever it takes to make that happen. Nothing else matters to me."